An unusual substance-abuse awareness program is planned for February 20 at Yeshivat Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus
It’s unusual because it’s the first community-wide program of its kind at a Jewish grade school featuring an interactive component.
Parents or guardians entering the auditorium will be led around an imaginary adolescent’s pretend-but-realistic bedroom. The evening is staged by counselors from the Bergen County Prevention Coalition, a program of Children’s Aid and Family Services.
The counselors will tell parents about common hiding places in a child’s bedroom for “stash items” related to substance abuse, and they will explain what these items are used for.
“There is a definite nationwide epidemic of substance abuse related to vaping, drugs, and opioids,” BPY’s school psychologist, Talia Hindin, said. “We are not immune to these challenges and we thought it is important to educate parents about what might drive a child to abuse substances, how to look for behavioral symptoms that might indicate their child has a problem, and what items to look for, such as JUUL cartridges.”
Dr. Hindin is referring to the JUUL e-cigarette device, a flash-drive-sized cartridge containing oils that are heated to create vapor. Each cartridge is roughly equivalent to a pack of cigarettes, or 200 cigarette puffs. JUUL contains nicotine and its sale is legally restricted to adults, but it comes in mango, fruit, and creme flavors that appeal to many children and teens.
While substance-abuse prevention programs are presented regularly in Jewish high schools, they are not as common in schools like BPY, whose student body ranges from nursery to eighth grade. Dr. Hindin said the idea for the evening was not prompted by a particular incident but by growing awareness that substance abuse is pervasive.
“We want to be proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “The more we can educate parents, teachers, and of course students, the more successful we can be in preventing a problem arising.”
When she talked to administrators at other Bergen County day schools to seek their participation, she received a positive response. “The sense I get from speaking to their professionals is that we all recognize that this is a challenge and we don’t want to be blind to the fact that it could be happening in our community,” she said. “We want to protect ourselves through knowledge and education.”
The “Hidden in Plain Sight” program will be cosponsored by the middle-school divisions of other local day schools and by the Teaneck-based Communities Confronting Substance Abuse.
The latter organization was founded by Lianne and Etiel Forman, members of Teaneck’s Orthodox community who decided to go public last year about their 23-year-old daughter Elana’s struggles with substance abuse, which began in high school. Elana now is celebrating a year of sobriety.
“It is very important for the community to be aware of the problem, to recognize signs and symptoms, and it also is very important to support other people,” Ms. Forman told the Jewish Standard before a program held at Torah Academy of Bergen County last April. To her surprise, more than 700 people attended that evening, and it was followed up by the creation of CCSA and a panel discussion at Teaneck’s Congregation Keter Torah last November.
“We’re cosponsoring the program at BPY because this is a communal issue and we should have a communal response,” Ms. Forman said. “BPY really should be applauded for taking a leadership role in spearheading this effort and for being so receptive and enthusiastic about making this a communal event.”
Ms. Forman said substance abuse can begin in the middle-school grades and not all parents know that. “We are trying to address this for younger and younger ages, so that people are educated and aware,” she said. “This program is going to address vaping in particular. A lot of people are not aware how incredibly addictive nicotine is, and this product is putting nicotine in our kids’ bodies. The Bergen County Prevention Coalition will tie that together with the message that general awareness of what’s going on in your child’s life is critical.”
Although “Hidden in Plain Sight” is not geared specifically to the Jewish community, it was presented several years ago at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck. Dr. Hindin said she provided the Bergen County Prevention Coalition presenters with information about BPY and the community.
The Formans’ organization also is working with all the local Jewish schools on faculty training for teachers of middle and high school grades; such sessions already have taken place at Ma’ayanot and at Yavneh Academy in Paramus.
In May, CCSA will present a keynote speaker and breakout sessions discussing substance-abuse trends, including vaping, painkiller addiction, risk factors, and legalization of marijuana, at Yeshivat He’Atid in Teaneck. Ms. Forman said representatives from the Bergen County Prevention Coalition and the Bergen County Prosecutors Office will be there. “After the November panel, many people asked us for a follow-up because they want more information,” she said.
What: “Hidden in Plain Sight: Keeping Our Children Safe,” an interactive evening for parents on substance abuse awareness led by the Bergen County Prevention Coalition
When: February 20, 2019, 7:45-9:15 p.m.
Where: Yeshivat Ben Porat Yosef, East 243 Frisch Court, Paramus
How much: Free and open to the community
Information: (201) 845-5007