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Keeping students safe: CCPS shares resources to fight drug abuse, depression, other threats

Addiction, depression and predators can threaten the well-being of young people, and Carroll County Public Schools students say the best thing their parents can do to protect them is to show up and listen.

CCPS hosted a wellness event Thursday at Winters Mill High School aimed at helping students and parents navigate difficult waters. Speakers addressed topics such as drug and alcohol abuse, signs of depression, and internet safety.

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About 20 exhibitors that offer resources to prevent and tackle these issues gathered in the cafeteria before and after the event. A panel of four high school students offered the perspective of young people.

Message: Take them seriously

A 2018 study showed 17.5% of Carroll County high school students seriously considered attempting suicide, according to Amy Jagoda, coordinator of mental health and student services for CCPS.

The recently released data came from a youth risk behavior survey taken by Maryland middle and high school students, Jagoda said. The survey also found that 28.6% of Carroll County high school students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in a row, so much so that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.

“Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals 10 to 24 years of age,” Jagoda said.

To prevent this, Jagoda said, parents should maintain close communication with their children and take their feelings seriously.

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh they’re just saying it because they want attention.’ If they’re feeling that they need attention that badly, they probably do need the attention. Give them the attention,” she said.

Signs of depression or anxiety might show in physical ways like increased headaches or stomachaches, Jagoda said. The child might also withdraw from others, seem irritable or angry, or lose focus, she said.

CCPS has a link on its website to crisis and suicide support services. The national hotline is 1-800-SUICIDE.

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Amy Laugelli, substance abuse prevention coordinator for Carroll County Health Department, recommended parents not only talk to their children about drugs and alcohol, but to set an example. Instead of a parent announcing they need a drink after work, maybe go for a walk instead and invite your child along, she suggested.

“Small conversations can make a big impression,” Laugelli said.

She suggested a mobile app, called “Talk. They Hear You.,” which helps parents practice difficult conversations and learn tips before they talk to their child.

Joe Dugan of Maryland State Police offered tips for protecting children online.

Dugan is part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which tries to make the internet a safer place for youth, he said.

Before smartphones, students could leave bullies at school, but now they carry the bullies with them in their pocket, Dugan said. He suggested monitoring children’s phone use, talking to them about dangers on the internet and making them feel like they can go to their parents if they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable.

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“We can make them safer by making them smarter," Dugan said. “Be that open resource for your child.”

He said predators look for children who are up late and unsupervised online. If one of the first things a stranger asks your child is their age, sex and location, Dugan said that’s an immediate red flag.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-843-5678.

County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, shared a person story of loss and addiction. His daughter, Tawni Nicole Bouchat, died at 26 years old of a fentanyl overdose in 2017. Bouchat then turned to alcohol and struggled with addiction.

Just before the first anniversary of her death, Bouchat cleaned himself up and made a commitment to sobriety in his daughter’s memory. He is now celebrating two years sober.

“Now here I am telling you that the addiction is real,” he said. “My objective is to help save lives in this community, and I want to affect your life so that you don’t suffer what I have suffered and my daughter had suffered.”

Students speak up

Once the adults finished their speeches in the auditorium, a panel of high school students provided their own expertise and shared ways their parents have helped them make good decisions.

“The reason why we’re up here and talking about this is because there’s no specific manual or way to do this and way to parent," Francis Scott Key senior Jake Lamb said. "It’s just more about supporting your kid and being there for them.”

Although from different schools, the students agreed that communicating with their parents and having their support has been crucial in their upbringing.

Marely Mujica-Cruz, a sophomore at Winters Mill, values when her parents make time for her, even when they work late and there are few moments to spare.

“I really appreciate it, even those times when they get home maybe at 10, that they take those five, 10 minutes to hear me and ask me how my day was,” Mujica-Cruz said.

Lilli Malone, a junior at Manchester Valley, said that just knowing she can go to her parents with her problems is a comfort. She also appreciates when they show up to see her perform in the marching band at football games.

“I know that my parents don’t always understand what I’m going through, but they make an effort not only to try to understand, but be an outlet for me to just talk about it, because even just talking about something I always feel better,” Malone said.

Nate Peterson, a junior at Liberty, is grateful for the time his family takes to support his interests, like marching band and music lessons. He said his mother drove him about six hours over the past three weeks so he could attend activities.

“They don’t have to understand it to be a part of it, to support it,” Peterson said. “So for you parents out there, I’d say just no matter what your kids’ interests are, just support it.”

At the close of the event, CCPS Superintendent Steven Lockard expressed hope that the wellness event can be held regularly at CCPS. He said the school has offered these resources to families before, but the school system wanted to hold an event for people to attend, learn and ask questions in person.

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