The statistics are troubling. According to the Ulster County Community Health Assessment, 19 percent of children aged 12 to 17 within the county use illicit drugs, a rate higher that of all youth in New York State as a whole, which is 9.98 percent according to the same study. When it comes to Ulster County youth using alcohol, 24.7 percent do, again higher than the 17.4 percentage across the state.
Facing these statistics and their consequences, superintendent Seth Turner declared at the most recent school board meeting that he had attended too many funerals of former students who had lost their lives to addiction or mental illness. It was time, he said, to do something about it.
Turner has started an initiative called “kNOw More,” which he hopes will raise awareness and help provide solutions. He said it is time to shine a light on the problem. If someone is suffering with addiction or mental-health issues they shouldn’t be treated like a criminal.
Turner initially brought the idea to his staff at the year’s first faculty meeting. By the time he finished speaking he said, he had received ten emails from staff wanting to be a part of the effort. By the end of the day that number had grown to 50.
At present, the group is still at the brainstorming stage, but there was so much interest that there will be two groups, one meeting at the elementary level and the other at the secondary level. Though Turner hopes to eventually open the group to the larger community, at present only staff is involved.
Once things get going, Turner says he wants to communicate with students “on their level.” Using social media is the first step, and kNOw More has a Facebook page, which declares “a commitment to becoming part of the solution to the problems impacting our youth.” He envisions that an umbrella group will address not just young lives lost to drug abuse, but also those lost to depression.
Declaring it “my major goal this year,” Turner said “I don’t know where this goes or where this ends,” but the time has come to do something to make a change.