This month marks the kick-off of an alcohol and drug prevention program at all area San Dieguito Union High School District campuses.
Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy, along with La Costa Canyon and San Dieguito Academy will be participants in Project Options, a program conducted by UC San Diego's psychology department and funded by National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse.
This is the fourth year that San Dieguito has offered Project Options to its students.
Offered in part by the California Department of Education's Healthy Kids Survey, student participation is voluntary and remains confidential. UCSD representatives will be on campus every week starting about mid-October.
"We hope that students will come and have a place to talk about these issues, and hopefully make more positive decisions for themselves," said Courtney Valentine, Project Options coordinator.
While the program allows the university to conduct a survey of adolescent substance use and attitudes, it also seeks to educate students on the effects of drinking or doing drugs and hopefully dissuade them from using.
"I think it's an issue that impacts students across the country," said David Jaffe, executive director of curriculum and assessment. "It's not just unique to our district."
Teens can participate by attending up to six individual or group sessions that usually last between 5 and 25 minutes. Valentine said they have different topics they go over, not just alcohol- and drug-related topics but also issues like stress and communication. Students will know the topic ahead of time and decide whether they want to attend.
"It's not an intervention," said Jaffe. "It's a program designed to work with students to prevent them from involving themselves with drug and alcohol use."
Students are also offered gift certificates as incentives to participate. Each year they've had about 70 percent participation from students, Jaffe said.
Valentine said in past years the project has been successful, students line up to attend and parents and administrators have been supportive.
"We're hoping for another successful year," Valentine said.
The district does have a back-up plan for students who may not be getting the anti-drug and alcohol message.
Students who get caught using are placed into a district intervention program called READI, which stands for recovery education alcohol drug instruction. READI is an intensive three-day educational program that pairs with support groups, community service, parent involvement and follow-ups.
Parents can also refer their teen into READI and students can refer themselves, but Jaffe admits that rarely happens. Once the program has been completed, students can avoid any written statements about suspensions on their record but they still can be suspended from extracurricular activities like sports and clubs.
The READI program has been in place for the last four years and Jaffe said it has been a success.
"We've reduced the number of students that have been caught under the influence significantly," Jaffe said. "They are not doing it at school or at school events."
Events like Friday night football games at Torrey Pines have strict rules that don't allow students to come in and out of Falcon Stadium. Once they are in the game, they're in, which hopefully works to prevent in-game and halftime mischief.
Jaffe stressed that the zero-tolerance at school events also extends to parents. Adults who are noticeably under the influence are asked to leave.
Jaffe noted the obvious: That when students are not in school or at school events, the district has no way of knowing or controlling student drug and alcohol use. They can only hope that the education given by programs like Project Options has sent a message that sticks.