One in five Riverside-Brookfield High School seniors say that they have tried cocaine, 64 percent of RB seniors report having used marijuana by the time they were 18 and 88 percent of RB seniors say they have drunk alcohol by the time they were 18. In addition, 60 percent of seniors say that they have used tobacco by the time they reached 18.
Those are some of the findings of a recent survey conducted at RBHS this fall. The school anonymously surveyed students concerning their use of drugs and alcohol.
The results did not shock school officials, who have decided to make a major effort to reduce drug and alcohol use among RB students. In August RB hired the school's first ever full-time drug and alcohol abuse counselor.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Principal/Superintendent Jack Baldermann. "In some ways it's sad that alcohol is so prevalent. It's unfortunate and I'm not happy about it."
Jim Keck, the new drug and alcohol counselor, advocated doing the survey so that he could get a better handle on drug and alcohol use among students.
"If we have the baseline data, then we know where we're at, and then we can attack the problem," said Baldermann.
The reported rate of cocaine use at RB is more than double the national average according to one national survey. Nationwide, 8 percent of 12th graders reported having used cocaine according to a 2005 survey called Monitoring the Future sponsored by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and conducted by the University of Michigan.
RB students' use of marijuana and alcohol is also above the national averages according to the Monitoring the Future study. The nationwide survey indicated that 44.8 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana and 75.1 percent of seniors nationwide have used alcohol.
A 2004 survey from the Illinois Department of Human Services also indicated that RB students experience with drugs and alcohol is above average. According to the Illinois Department of Human Resources study, only 4.3 percent of Cook County 12th graders reported having used cocaine. Outside of Cook County that percentage rises to 7.9 percent of 12th graders.
Among Illinois' urban 12th graders, the percentage rises to 9.2 percent, still less than half the percentage of RB seniors who reported having tried cocaine. The percentages of 12th graders who have tried marijuana, alcohol and tobacco are also somewhat higher at RB than in Cook County overall.
According to the high school's survey, RB students begin drinking at a young age. Some 52 percent of RB freshman reported having tried alcohol by the age of 14. The numbers of students using alcohol gradually increase throughout the high school years.
In the past year or so there have been arrests of RB students for using and selling drugs and for driving under the influence. There was a serious traffic accident last spring that involved a RB student driving under the influence of alcohol. Some incidents have involved high-achieving students, and varsity athletes have been involved in some cases.
Recognizing that drug and alcohol abuse was a problem, the administration decided last summer to hire Keck.
Keck has 17 years of experience as a drug and alcohol counselor. His role is to provide counseling and education to students and parents.
In early November, Keck gave a "Life after the Party" talk that attracted a crowd of around 300 parents and students. He presented the findings of the student survey to students at a recent assembly, where he also talked about the damage that early drug and alcohol use can have on the developing brains of teenagers. And, last week, Keck hosted a followup meeting solely for parents to present the survey findings. About 20 parents attended the meeting at RB.
"The numbers were a little eye opening for me," said Frank West of Brookfield, a parent of an RB senior who attended the meeting. "It was a little bit shocking."
Drinking has long been a staple of teenage life.
"It has become part of our culture that this has become a rite of passage for our kids," said Christine Sutton a social worker at RB.
Linda Lavery the chair of the student services department agreed.
"Drug and alcohol use among teenagers is nothing new," said Lavery.
RB senior Gina DeBartolo was skeptical whether the assembly and the film that was shown during it would persuade kids to stop drinking and using drugs.
She noted that students laughed at parts of the film.
"I don't think it's going to help our drug and alcohol problem at RB," said DeBartolo after the assembly. "It doesn't get through to people. Even real life situations don't always get through to people. Accidents that happened last year don't even affect us this year. It's all forgotten. Nothing is changing."
DeBartolo said that drinking and drug use is widespread at RB.
"I know people that drink every weekend," said DeBartolo. "Alcohol is abused here. So many people smoke pot. I've seen so many do drugs. I've seen so many people do cocaine."