High school students in Arlington County are about to get a break, according to their community’s leaders. The Second Chance program is the first of its kind in the country and the hope is that it will become an early prevention technique used nationwide to keep kids away from drugs and alcohol.
First Time Offenders
The Second Chance program targets kids who are found in possession of alcohol or marijuana. Middle and high school students that are caught for the first time, instead of facing school suspensions and the judicial system, will be directed toward a substance abuse prevention course. The 3 day educational course must be taken with a parent, and students will be excused from school for the duration of the course. In order to enter the program, kids must be first time offenders, and cannot be doing hard drugs.
Students might see the new program as a way to get a free pass, but supporters of the program know that it will enable them to reach at-risk youth more effectively. Arlington youth, like students across the country, are finding themselves surrounded by alcohol and marijuana. A study done by the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families last year found that 76% of teens admitted to using alcohol, and 50% said they’d tried marijuana. With statistics like that popping up across the country, the Second Chance program just might be a valuable tool to bringing these numbers down.
Prevention More Beneficial than Punishment
Just as in the adult population, people are realizing that punishment and the judicial system aren’t always effective in curbing drug use. But educational programs that provide early intervention can be very beneficial. “To suspend a student for five or ten days, to have them sitting at home and missing school — maybe their parents are there or maybe they’re not — is not an effective way to deal with someone who’s just getting involved in drugs and alcohol,” said Arlington School Board member Abby Raphael. “We need to intervene, we need education, we need to get the parents involved, and we need to [prevent students from] falling further behind in school.” (1) Supporters hope that their Second Chance program can become a model for communities across the country that struggle with teen drug and alcohol abuse.
Parental involvement will be one key to the success of the Second Chance program. “We know that to really be successful in preventing kids from using drugs and alcohol… parents have to be involved,” Raphael said. (1) Studies across the country have shown that parents that are involved with their children’s lives are a positive force in keeping their kids off drugs and away from alcohol. With the Second Chance program, students who make a bad decision and mess up once learn, along with their parents, about the dangers of substance abuse and prevention techniques.