Middle school program aims to educate students about using drugs, getting caught | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Middle school program aims to educate students about using drugs, getting caught

William Ferchland

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / After the mock funeral for a classmate who overdosed, students view the coffin to find a mirror inside. Gavin Garcia and other seventh-grade students from around the area participated in the Drugstore Project on Wednesday at Lake Tahoe Community College.

In the juvenile hall room, a probation officer told groups of seventh-graders about the sharing of underwear.

And the two phone calls allowed each week to parents.

And walking in circles to get daily exercise.

“Welcome to the Juvenile Treatment Center, better known as our house, not your house,” said Rob Krzaczek, El Dorado County supervising probation officer.

Krzaczek was one of three probation officers in a classroom at Lake Tahoe Community College where an elaborate anti-drug program called the “Drug Store Project” was conducted Wednesday for 450 seventh-graders.

In its third year, the project tries to educate students with two real-life scenarios of a student in each group getting busted for stealing a bag of methamphetamine and collapsing then dying on the floor during a party.

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A student is chosen before the project begins to “steal” a display bag of methamphetamine in front of other pupils in the group. The seventh-grader is handcuffed in front of his group of students and led out the door. The group then finds him next in a classroom portrayed as juvenile hall before the group watches as he sits in front of a judge, flanked by an attorney from the public defender’s office .

The student groups are then ushered into a neighboring classroom where they watch their peer undergoing counseling. After each stage, students in the group are allowed to ask questions.

The scenarios were enacted with such validity that students often ask if their peer really did steal the bag of methamphetamine.

Death scenes attempt to drive the point home of the danger of drugs. A student, portrayed at a party where dancing is fueled by a deejay’s music and drugs, collapses. Paramedics are rushed in and take the student to the hospital (inside the college’s theater) and when the student is figuratively pronounced dead, the group is escorted into a funeral room, complete with a coffin.

Expecting to see their peer as they pass by the coffin, the students instead see themselves in a mirror placed on the pillow.

After the scenarios the students were debriefed by School Resource Police Officer Scott Willson and members of Sierra Recovery Center.

South Tahoe Middle School pupil Samuel Martinez portrayed a student who collapsed in the party room from an overdose. Although he said it was “really cool to play somebody else,” he also learned “how drugs can kill you if you keep using them.”

Jorge Luis Vargas was one who was swept by the reality of the program when a fellow student “stole” methamphetamine from a display table.

“I sort of thought he was a lunatic because we were surrounded by cops and they said don’t touch anything,” Vargas said.

Student Elliott Amsden thought the middle school should do more to impose after-school programs to help keep students occupied after the final bell rings for the day.

Willson told one student group that last week some teenagers at South Tahoe High School were caught drinking rubbing alcohol. The seventh-graders were aghast.

Lisa Huard, Lake Tahoe Unified School District safe schools coordinator, stressed parents should communicate with their children about drugs and alcohol. The project should help catalyze that communication, Huard said.