If adults want youngsters to stop smoking marijuana in school, they should seek student help when making rules, provide training for peer counselors and "get informed about drug abuse, so they don't think 'smoking a joint' means cooking some meat."
These suggestions were among those presented by four high-school students in a teen's-view of drug abuse at last week's conference sponsored by the American Council on Marijuana and Other Psychoactive Drugs.
"Frankly," said Carl Metzger, 17, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School senior, "I think the goal Dr. Robert DuPont stated, of creating a marijuana-free society for kids to grow up in, is a little unrealistic.
"I think the sale and use has gone too far for that. If you aim your sights too high, there's a chance you'll miss the target . . . which should be getting drugs out of the schools."
Drugs are most often used around the school, proffered 16-year-old Freda Adams of Dallas, Tex. "Marijuana does not tend to be an open problem within our school, partly because the halls are monitored by school officials. But there is some smoking outside the building, during lunch and class breaks."
Teachers may "just ignore" a student who comes to class high, she said, "maybe because they have large classes and so many other things to do. A guy I know always comes to class stoned, and if the teacher calls on him he starts laughing. Then he falls asleep."
To catch students abusing drugs, said Toni Thiboult, 17, of West Palm Beach, "Our school has security guards and the principal carries a walkie-talkie. You feel like you're in a prison.
"What I think would be more helpful is to have more counselors. I went to see a counselor about a course once, but she was so busy with paperwork she couldn't even help me. It's sad to say, but if a student has a problem -- with a class, or with drugs or with anything -- there may not be any one to turn to."
Since adolescence is a time when students may be trying new roles and defying authority, said Metzger, "get-tough" drug-abuse policies may not work. "At our school, if a student is caught with marijuana they'll call the police, but I don't think the problem is that simple."
Discipline, he said, may be more effective than "severe punishment" . . . "Schools ought to try to get to the root of the problem and come up with some active solutions. If it's a serious problem they could use 'in-school suspension' where the student has to come to school to do special work. That way they're not just sent home -- the problem is confronted."
In some schools, said Adams, students are unaware of the administration's drug-abuse policy. "The rules concerning the use of marijuana during school should be clearly stated. And they should be made with some imput from students. Why don't you ask us for help? We are willing."
Said B-CC senior Miriam de Levie: "We have a peer-counseling program that's about three years old . . . about 30 peer counselors, supported by a counselor, a therapist and a special-education teacher.
"We get training in role-playing, verbal and non-verbal communication, confidentiality, empathetic questioning, family-related problems, when to make referrals and when to inform professionals. We have a conference room set aside where students can come in before or after school or during lunch. We don't give advice; we help students explore possible options. The whole philosophy is to help students help themselves."
The peer-counseling approach is particularly effective, said Adams, who participates in a similar program at her school, "because a student is more comfortable confiding in another student. If a student comes to school high, a peer counselor would try to talk to that person and find out what was the problem.
"A teacher might send the student to the office, where the principal might suspend the student. But I don't think you should suspend a person right away. It may be the first time they've come to school high, maybe as the result of a family problem. I think you should first find out the problem and try to help the person at school."
Peer counselors also present a "positive image of a non-smoker," said Thiboult. She is involved in a program which trains high-school students to discuss ill effects of cigarettes and marijuana with fifth graders. "Studies show that fifth grade is when lots of kids get involved. I met one fifth grader who knew more about drugs than I did."
Parents and teachers must be informed about drug abuse if they want to help their kids, stressed Metzger. "If you tell kids smoking marijuana is bad for the lungs, they've heard that routine with cigarettes."
A better tactic, he suggested, is discussing the latest studies about marijuana's impact on reproduction. "I think a lot of guys smoke marijuana to be cool and impress girls, but when they find out it may keep them from becoming a real man, well, that may hit home."