Welcoming an on Campus Substance Abuse Professional to U-32

This article was written by Josie Haley, a student in Journalism class.


Resources available in the Nurse’s office.


“The biggest piece of this [drug and alcohol prevention] is safety, because we cannot have students who are unable and who don’t realize that they’re unable to control themselves in the building.”


Tony Snow, a staff member at U-32, highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to limiting drug use by advocating for the appointment of a Drug & Alcohol counselor on campus. This counselor would provide support that spans grade levels and developmental stages, with a focus on building resilience in our community. Tony is the Restorative In School Experience (RISE) coordinator at U-32. His role as an administrator is unique and allows him to interact with the students to support substance abuse prevention.


Tony Snow during a school day.


Tony, with the guidance of other administrative staff, applied for a grant from the Department of Health in order to fund a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) using various statistics about the student body. “Tony, JB Hilferty and I met and we reviewed our local data and data specific to U-32 [regarding health and substances]. We also did a little bit of research around what are the best impacts for students this age, to change their use. It really comes down to counseling where students actively engage in how to quit, which we don’t have,” said Jes Wills, assistant principal at U-32. 


As reported by the CDC, “The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBS) is a set of surveys that track behaviors that can lead to poor health in students grades 9 through 12.” The U-32 YRBS data was analyzed by administrators for the grant application. The YRBS provided students the opportunity to self-report anonymously. In 2021, 41% of students reported trying alcohol, 25% reported vaping, 25% reported marijuana use, and 14% reported smoking cigarettes. Given that drugs and alcohol are ever present in our community, the grant application demonstrated a need for support at U-32.


Amber Larabee, a school nurse at U-32, notices this trend in use: “We know that there’s students in the building that are using substances. It’s not only important to know what they’re using, but why they’re using it and how we can help them recover from using them, because that only leads to chronic problems for their future.” She is incredibly grateful for the extension of the grant and the appointment of an SAP. “With the SAP we’ll have someone following students and making sure that the interventions are happening… I don’t know how we’ve been going without one,” said Amber.


Who is going to be stepping into the SAP position? Possibly a familiar face in the middle school. “We happen to be losing a school counselor to budget cuts, Jen Pelletier, who is qualified for that position…she has to go through the hiring process like everybody else, she’s wonderful,” said Jes. Jen is currently the 7th grade school counselor, and if she accepted the SAP position, would work across all grade levels. As the SAP she would provide direct counseling, similar to her work in the middle school, with a focus on substance abuse and prevention.


“I know a lot of people who are struggling with a lot of drug issues, and I think it’d be nice if they had someone specifically to talk to about drugs here at school,” said Mason Byrd, a 10th grade student. Students will be encouraged to use the SAP as a confidential resource for getting help. Students interested in quitting or discussing their misuse can feel trusting of the SAP, “The SAP can’t share anything back with the admin other than they attended and they engaged or they intended and didn’t really engage or they didn’t attend. We won’t get any other information other than that, it’s completely confidential,” said Jes. 


Along with the addition of a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor, admin is implementing greater training across staff with Drug Impairment Training for Education Professionals (DITEP) resources. “Instead of me doing this work, where I’m trying to do programming and support people with little bits of piecemeal here and there, we’re directing all of the grant into this position. We’ll have a full time in-house counselor that can meet with students and support them, which is going to be absolutely wonderful,” said Tony. He proposed a taper funding plan that will gradually incorporate the SAP into our budget, if proven beneficial.


DITEP Participant Manual on Tony Snow’s Desk.


Many people recognize introducing an SAP to U-32 wouldn’t have happened without Tony, “He has a unique brain to be honest and how he puts things together and asks questions in certain situations. It’s pretty impressive. And how he can think about what’s happening in the different towns. And how we can build capacity and expand enrollment and all of those things,” said Jes. Staff across the building are incredibly appreciative of the efforts Tony has put into this project. Tony also recognizes the broader importance of preventing substance use, as it is greatly tied to mental health outcomes.


In the YRBS report, mental health challenges at U-32 clearly affect a significant proportion of students. Given the opportunity to self-report anonymously, 22% of students expressed completing self-harm, 14% expressed creating suicide plans, and 9% expressed attempting suicide. “We know that mental health and mental wellness is a really big piece to substance use. And one can lead to the other. Looking at all the other peripheral data is incredibly important in understanding students because we know that PTSD and people around violence might choose to self medicate, all these things are connected,” said Tony.


“A lot of people today, specifically younger people of our generation, have had a lot of stuff to handle in the new age of social media. It’s probably a lot easier to get access to drugs, which have always kind of been marketed as antidepressants. So it’s young teens today that are more susceptible to addictive substances,” said Student Council representative John Stafford. There is clearly a need for a SAP on campus, and students are encouraged to use this resource next year.

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