Just one day after a knifepoint robbery on school property, Niskayuna Central School District officials and community members gathered in the school’s media center to determine a plan for prevention and vigilance on keeping students safe from drugs, alcohol and cyber bullying.
The underlying problem, said Matthew Cutler, facilitator and rabbi of Congregation Gates of Heaven, is the stresses today’s students face and the way those stresses manifest themselves.
“We’re seeing a manifestation of this pain in very sincere ways, very destructive ways,” Cutler said. “And we look to point fingers at someone to take responsibility. But this is more than just the bullying, the drugs and the alcohol. It really represents kids that are hurting and looking for something.”
Several recent, high-profile incidents brought together about 50 parents, teachers and town officials Thursday night, who took turns speaking out about what they as a community could do about them.
When recent YouTube videos surfaced threatening specific Niskayuna High School students, there was an outcry among parents who said their children no longer felt safe going to school. The incident prompted town police and FBI investigations into the source of the videos, which has yet to be determined.
Additionally, school officials are grasping for solutions after a September football game brought significant attention to the issue of drugs and alcohol in the school. A student was taken to the hospital for evaluation because of his intoxication at the football game, where eight students in total were found to be drunk.
Student Assistance Counselor Charisse Steinberg said no one organization could be charged with handling the issues of drug and alcohol abuse among students.
“This has to be an issue that we all look at and try to figure out the best way to go forward,” she said. “I think all communities face the issue of alcohol and drug use. I think we need to now focus on how the Niskayuna community needs to change in order to protect our youth.”
Many chimed in with potential solutions, last-ditch efforts and desperate pleas. Talks ranged from increased parent accountability, developing recreational activities for teenagers in town, encouraging cyber bullying discussions during homeroom, and even bringing back drug awareness programs like D.A.R.E. to elementary schools.
Teachers said students are drinking alcohol from water bottles they bring into school and doing drugs in “The Foxhole,” a wooded area on campus between the school and Niskayuna Town Hall and police station.
High School Principal John Rickert said by the time students enter high school, it’s usually too late to address these problems. He said parents should be open to communication about these issues with their children as young as possible.
“These types of risky behaviors are not solely limited to one group of kids,” he said. “Honors kids get involved, athletes, loners, kids from successful families, kids from struggling families. How do we reach out to kids and get kids to tell us what’s getting them to this point?”
Community members hope to continue Thursday’s conversation at future meetings. Niskayuna Police Officer Alan Bell suggested holding community forums at different places around town to draw in as many people as possible.
Longtime community member and High School Assistant Principal Mark Treanor was on board with the idea. He said he thought any discussion on the topics lets students know their community cares about their safety and well-being.
“Maybe this is pie in the sky,” he said, “but I would love to see our schools become an oasis of civility in a world that’s becoming less and less civil. Our ultimate goal is we want our kids to feel safe and take advantage of everything that we have to offer. And the things that bring us to these tables is upsetting.”
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