The community of parents in Shelton are worried and are joining forces with the school district in an attempt to address their concerns.
Even when the opioid epidemic isn’t making headlines, parents and families everywhere are feeling its effects, according to Pamela Mautte, director of the Alliance for Prevention and Wellness for BHcare.
“We’re worried,” said school Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet. “This affects every family. It has nothing to do with whether your parents have money or not. Or whether you went to college or not. It has nothing to do with any of that. People are getting addicted quickly and are destroying their lives as a part of the opioid epidemic.”
The effects of the opioid epidemic led the school district to think of ways it could bridge the gap between the schools and all other facets of the community. Its latest effort to build that connection came in the form of an educational event for parents held at Perry Hill Elementary School on Tuesday night called “Hidden in Plain Sight.”
The event was structured as a question-and-answer forum, but it also featured an interactive portion in which clusters of parents were asked to enter a mock bedroom that was set up within the school and locate items they thought could be linked to drug use.
“I hope that the parents take away telltale signs that their child could be using drugs and also are aware of resources that are available for them to get help,” said Mautte. “It’s really to begin that open conversation with their children. It’s never-ending education.”
Fake tampons, fake soda cans, and fake USBs were all items parents located within the mock bedroom. All are believed to be ways children hide their drug use or at least conceal their paraphernalia from their parents.
Some parents were shocked to learn some of the “tricks” used by the younger generation, but others knew exactly what to look for. Board of Education members Dr. Darlisa Ritter, Mark Holden, and Kathy Yolish were in the last wave of parents to enter the room and were very quick to locate some of the hidden items.
The mother of a student at Perry Hill and another at Long Hill Elementary School, Michelle Collings, said she attended the event in order to learn.
“As a parent, I need to be involved in their life and if I want them to feel comfortable talking with me. I need to know what they’re talking about because if I constantly have to ask, ‘What’s that?’ they’re not going to want to talk anymore because it requires too much explanation,” she said.
Other parents who work within the schools and who attended the event said it’s never too early to begin having conversations with your children about the dangers of drugs.
Amy D’Amico, a sixth grade teacher at Perry Hill and the parent of an eighth grader in the Shelton school district, said setting clear parent-to-child boundaries is important when trying to build an “open relationship” with children.
“You have to expose parents and not be so naive to what’s going on in life,” said D’Amico. “If you have an open relationship with your kids, you’re able to let them know what to expect if you suspect something. That way, they know that if you suspect something, they already know why you’re taking that route. Lay that out first so that if that were to happen they can only say ‘Well, she told us that.’
“We’re not their friends,” said D’Amico. “We’re exposing them to what’s going on so we want them to feel comfortable enough to come to us to ask questions, because we want to make sure they know the truth.”
In an effort to get all the different members of the community on the same page with the effort to combat the opioid epidemic, the Shelton school district recruited people from different walks of life in order to build an alliance called “Shelton Empowers.”
“Shelton Empowers is a group that we invented ourselves. … We’re all about empowering Shelton young people. Our target is young people, but an age group that is in grave danger are people between the ages of 20 and 30. We worry about everybody,” said Clouet. “We have members of the clergy, the police department, health care, youth bureau services, students, teachers, and others that are a part of this group.”
In conjunction with the group’s work within the schools, Shelton Empowers recently had a billboard put up along River Road.
“Before opioids have the last word, change the script,” the billboard reads.
According to Clouet, the saying is a part of nationwide effort to combat the opioid crisis with education.
Assistant Superintendent Lorraine Rosner, who is also a member of Shelton Empowers, said the group is looking to obtain funding through a grant they did not qualify for last year. Rossner speculated that qualifying for the grant is more subjective than valuative.
“You never know what grant scorers or evaluators you’ll get, and that can make or break you,” said Rossner. “Our program is pretty much the same as last year, we’re just reapplying.”
According to the director of the Youth Service Bureau, Sylvia Rodriguez, the grant is worth $100,000.
Rossner explained that the funding would go toward putting on more community events and potentially hiring a program facilitator.
“They would be similar to a social worker, but their responsibilities and focus would be only on Shelton Empowers,” said Rossner, who said the group is also thinking of applying for state grants.
“It would be easier for us, because we are a Connecticut school group, and although it won’t be the same amount of funding, any money that we can use to support programs like this is so important,” said Rossner.