Lenox school forum to aid parents on substance abuse, sex issues

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LENOX — A forum at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School aimed at parents and guardians will explore the best ways to help students avoid the pitfalls of drug and alcohol abuse such as binge drinking as well as unprotected sexual activity that can lead to teen pregnancy.

The event, "How to Navigate Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll," features a survey presentation by Nataly Garzon, Berkshire County United Way's coordinator of youth development, and a discussion led by the keynote speaker, Thomas M. Miller, a licensed clinical social worker.

Garzon will review the school's results and countywide findings based on the 2015 Massachusetts Prevention Needs Assessment Survey, which tracks drug, alcohol and cigarette use as well as teen pregnancy rates and bullying. The survey is conducted every two years.

The program, sponsored by Berkshire County United Way, will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Duffin Theatre at the school.

Garzon said that eighth-, 10th- and 12th-grade students from all Berkshire public middle and high schools took part in the 2015 survey, with an average participation rate of nearly 72 percent countywide, and 77 percent in Lenox. Participation is anonymous and voluntary, she noted, and a 60 percent rate is considered necessary in order to make the results representative and meaningful.

During her presentation, Garzon said she will discuss positive and negative trend lines based on "what's happening in the youth environment and ways to avoid risky behavior."

Results of the Lenox survey are in line with countywide findings showing increased habitual use of alcohol among 12th-graders, as well as gradual upswings in marijuana use by 10th-graders, and a more drastic increase by seniors, she said. Among eighth-graders, habitual alcohol use is decreasing, Garzon added.

"This is not at all unique to Lenox," she said, "but part of a countywide pattern and something we're trying to react to."

The survey data compiled by Berkshire United Way shows 33 percent of seniors reported binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) last year, compared to a national rate of 19.4 percent. Among 10th-graders, it was 16.6 percent, compared to 12.6 percent nationally, and 5.8 percent by eighth-graders, above the 4.1 percent national figure.

For substance use, the survey shows a general decline among eighth- and 10th-graders in Berkshire County, with rates below nationwide levels.

But among seniors, drug usage remains above the national average, though trending downward since 2011.

Nevertheless, 24 percent of Berkshire seniors indicated they had been "drunk or high at school" last year, the United Way survey revealed.

Risk factors of concern, above the national average, for all three grades surveyed in the county include "low commitment to school, perceived low risk of drug use and perceived rewards for anti-social behavior," the assessment stated.

Among Berkshire high school seniors, the survey noted, 70 percent "perceive that laws and social norms favor drug use."

The findings across all three grades also cited "low perceived rewards for pro-social involvement from the community, family, peers and schools." For 10th-graders, the "perceived rewards" were reported as "very low."

The survey stated that 26.7 percent of students in the county's eighth, 10th and 12th grades reported they were bullied in 2015, primarily because of appearance, weight and race.

For the 636 students who said they had been bullied, about half said that it stopped immediately after incidents were reported. For the rest, it did not.

Principal Michael Knybel said members of the School Council have been involved in developing Thursday's discussion with a goal of "beginning work to improve the protective factors for our students within the Lenox community in order to continue to see positive survey results from our students."

The local findings will be compared to other county schools and national trends "in order to provide a clear picture of our community," Knybel said. "Parents and guardians will see the good and the bad."

Garzon, a 2014 Williams College graduate, works countywide for United Way on numerous initiatives aimed toward reducing youth alcohol and substance use, and reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Miller, based in Great Barrington, is in private practice and focuses on training parents and professionals to improve families' skills, enhancing dialogue and offering a pathway toward wellness.

His specialties include anxiety, depression, substance abuse treatment, behavioral problems and attention-deficit issues, among others.

Among the topics for the forum are the effects of alcohol and substance abuse on the teenage brain, the right "dosage of parenting, what's too much or too little," and how to motivate teens to make healthy choices, Miller stated.

According to Knybel, Miller is "always passionate and energetic about the opportunity to help people change their lives. He always motivates his audience to face adversity and push past their limitations. He believes that his clients and their families possess the innate resources to heal themselves."

Knybel depicts Miller's goal as "teaching his clients new skills and ways to unearth that resilience."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If you go ...

What: Forum for parents and guardians, "How to Navigate Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll."

When: 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Lenox Memorial Middle and High School, Duffin Theatre, 197 East St.

Why: Sponsored by Berkshire United Way, the program includes 2015 survey results on drug, alcohol and cigarette use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders at the Lenox school, compared to countywide and national trends.

Who: Presenters are Nataly Garzon, youth development coordinator for Berkshire United Way, and Thomas M. Miller, licensed clinical social worker based in Great Barrington.


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