"I was really excited when I went to Blair High School, so I was working really hard. But my report card just didn't show it. So I started partying pretty hard. Then some weird dude -- I guess it must have been the principal -- called me in and said he was gonna kick me out. I was doing a lot of coke and 'K' (PCP) and downers and acid."
Pat, 16, is explaining how he ended up at the Phoenix School -- an 8-month-old experimental program created in response to increasing drug use among teen-agers in Montgomery County. The problem culminated last year in a flurry of arrests of pot smokers on the school grounds.
Pat was one of those arrested.
He is telling his story to his eight other Phoenix schoolmates in Silver Spring. Their ages range from 13 to 17, and their stories are alike. To Pat's right, Warren, a baby-faced 15, takes up the narrative.
"I was doing drugs before the seventh grade . . . and I got introduced to glue. It was cheap, easy to get. I was like an addict to it.
"Then these two old ladies said I tried to kill a kid. My mind was going one way and school was going another. So I jumped through a showcase window, just to get out of school."
Police raids have stopped this year but the drug problem continues.There are still many teen-agers in the county -- authorities cannot say how many -- who have serious drug habits that have led them to violence and arrests.
Brian Berthiaume, a county educator who designed the Phoenix School program and now runs it, says there is a growing need for special courses and schools which remove teen-agers with drug problems from the academic mainstream for one year to help.
"I meet the kids at the door," he said. "If they're high, I call the parents right away. The parents get so damn mad the kids don't do it again."
Some high school students belittle the Phoenix School, saying it is little more than a holding cell for trouble makers. But the nine youths in the program, and their parents, speak highly of the program. Pat's father, Ed, for instance, said he was pleased that his son's attitude toward school has improved.
"He hasn't been late once," he said. "In fact, he gets anxious if a stop light or something on the way to school slows us up."
The school, which draws students from all over the county, has no buses, so parents drive their children to the former Springmill Elementary School. Parents also attend weekly discussion sessions focused on ending drug use at home.
The atmosphere at the school is due partly to the fact that students are there voluntarily. As Berthiaume said: "These are kids who want to change."
Berthiaume says the school has not rid students entirely of drug use, but in relative terms has made some progress. "Most of the kids are down to getting stoned once a day," he said. "And considering their use before, that's progress."
At a typical class earlier this week, Berthiaume, 36, sat in a circle of his students, his immaculate white slacks making him conspicuous among the blue jeans and "Led Zeppelin" T-shirts. His life has become full-time crusade against drug use.
"I heard somewhere long ago that drug use in America was instigated as a Commie plot," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, sure,' but you know, I do feel the biggest threat to America is drugs."
He has lobbied against efforts to decriminalize use of marijuana, often quotes studies on the harmful effects of drugs on energy levels, memory and the reproductive system and thinks the police raids last year were necessary.
"I don't know why it stopped, do you?" he said."If kids are doing drugs in school, someone needs to address that. If they're breaking the law, someone should stop it. I see hundreds of kids in this county alone doing drugs daily. And that's pathetic."