On Wednesday, January 31, the entire freshman class and their parents congregated in the Georgetown Day School library. This mandatory meeting was organized to discuss the usage of drugs and alcohol in the 9th grade class. Amy Killy, the GDS guidance counselor, believes that the main goal of the meeting was to get students and parents talking about this issue. She hopes, “that there can be some sort of common ground that can foster a good conversation about what’s real, that is both real and relevant.”
In previous years, meetings similar to these have occurred for the sophomores and juniors. These meetings were never mandatory, only highly encouraged. This year, the school decided to change things, and make the meeting mandatory for freshmen students. As sophomore Rebecca Stern, a Peer Leader (PLP), says, “I think the idea here is to get 9th graders before they come into contact with these things, because the party scene becomes much more prevalent as you get older and these things become much more accessible as you get older.”
One week before the meeting, in advisory, the 9th grade students were given a survey by the PLPs. The survey contained questions pertaining to the usage of drugs and alcohol by freshmen. Even though each freshman was reassured multiple times that the survey was completely anonymous, many of the questions might not have been answered candidly. Freshman Josh Gaba believes “students will be honest about what the grade does, but they won’t be about themselves.”
The survey asked us questions like what percentage of students in the grade drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. The next question was asking about the percentage of friends who drink alcohol and smoke marijuana. This data was presented at the meeting by the PLPs. Students perceive that at least 25% of the class is smoking marijuana, while only 7% of their friends and close peers do. “What it shows is that while use is notable, the perception of how many people are doing it is actually greater than the reality,” Amy reported.
The day of the meeting, students and their parents were separated into 35 tables, with no table containing someone from the same family. Each table had a PLP to facilitate the conversation, among roughly half parents and half students. The goal was to separate people with any relation to allow parents and students to be as honest as possible.
The meeting began with Brenda Conlan, an expert on teenager’s usage of drugs and alcohol. She spoke of her own experiences with addiction and how negatively it has affected her life. This set the stage for conversations had at each table about scenarios and how each parent or student would react. The groups discussed scenarios such as, if your child came home late from a party and you smelled alcohol on their breath, how would you react? Parents and teenagers alike gave honest opinions that they could take away to have their own discussions. This meeting produced good conversation that might not have occurred in a setting with just parents and their children.
Freshman Nadine Ameer thinks that the meeting was a great way to get students and parents to engage in difficult issues. “I liked it. I think it was nice to have students and parents at the same table talking,” Nadine said. She believes that this style of conversation can be used again on other sensitive topics.
Amy hopes that if anything, students and parents will have one takeaway. “I think for students it’s that having relationships with adults matter, whether it is your own parent or other adults. I think for parents I’m hoping that they realize that having conversations with their kids matter. And that their kid’s voice matters.”