BY EMMA BROWN
Despite attempts to educate students on the risks, Carmel Middle School has continued to see drug-related activity, and while administrators recognize vaping as the greatest issue, they also acknowledge that a number of students participate in the use of drugs and underage drinking.
California’s Healthy Kids 2016-17 survey of CMS indicates that five percent of seventh graders reported having used drugs, but CMS teachers note that they are unsure whether students were honest on the survey and conversations with former CMS students also highlight the misleading nature of this statistic.
“A lot of eighth graders probably have experimented with vaping,” says Dan Morgan, the principal of CMS since 2016-17. “A lot of them vape pretty regularly, just given what we see and what we know.”
Morgan believes that seventh graders vape less frequently than their older peers, and that sixth graders are using older students as a reference for how they should act when they are that age.
Any and all possession of tobacco products, alcohol or drugs at school, on a student’s way to or from school, at a school-sponsored activity or during school hours at CMS is an act punishable by a suspension or expulsion. During 2018-19, about a dozen students were suspended due to allegations surrounding the use of vape pens in one of the school’s restrooms. In order to preserve the anonymity of the students, the event was not publicly acknowledged, but the news of the suspensions spread quickly throughout the student body.
Despite the relatively low number of suspensions at CMS, electronic cigarette use amongmiddle school students is fairly common.
“We started to find students using vape pens since the product started to become popular,” Morgan says. “We have some vaping-related suspensions every year”
Many students begin to vape at a young age and continue to do so in high school. A national survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration in 2018 states that 570,000 middle school students currently use e-cigarette products. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that one in ten middle school students said that they had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.
“The first time I ever vaped was when I was in seventh grade,” says a CHS freshman. “Now I vape a few times a week.”
One of Morgan’s concerns with students using e-cigarettes is the products’ addictive nature.
Juul Labs Inc., an e-cigarette company, reports that one Juul pod contains approximately the same amount of nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, making it extremely addictive.
“Even after using the vape for a few days, I couldn’t stop,”says one CHS freshman. “I used it all the time. I know it’s not good for me, but I don’t really give a shit.”
More than 150 teenagers have died from e-cigarette related illnesses; many of them are caused by chemicals in e-cigarette flavoring.
Despite a national decrease in teenage consumption of alcohol and drug use, several suspensions have been related to these issues.
By eighth grade, more than one third of students had consumed more than a few sips of alcohol, reports DoSomething.org, an international non-profit organization dedicated to helping dedicated to helping young adolescents stay off drugs. The same report also stated that of the students that reported having consumed alcohol, boys tended to begin to consume alcohol at age 11 and the girls tended to begin at 13.
“For sure, kids are drinking. I did at that age,” says a CHS freshman. “I know middle schoolers who drink. It might not be as common as vaping or smoking weed, but they definitely do it.”
CMS has taken numerous initiatives to educate students on the risks of drugs, tobacco products and alcohol. Last year, students participated in a seminar about vaping that was taught by police officers. Additionally, sixth graders take a six-week health course where they learn about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products and eighth graders participate in Ohana Day, which ends with a speech that encourages students to refrain from using drugs and alcohol.
“The school does a good job of educating students,” says one CHS freshman. “It’s just the education that we get doesn’t affect our decisions, so it doesn’t really do anything.”
In response to students’ continued use, CMS has begun to take increased security measures to discourage students from participating in illegal activities on campus.
“We are installing cameras this year, and we’ll be monitoring that very carefully,” Morgan says. “We’ve also looked at something called a fly sensor, which is something that gets installed into bathrooms. It’s linked mobily to my computer and my phone, and it detects vaporizing odors and can send me an alert and tell me exactly what bathroom it’s in and when it happened.”
With the installation of these provisions and the continuation of their educational programs, CMS administrators hope to see a decrease in the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco products among students.