We peered inside the bedroom where Jamie lay sleeping beside an open laptop on the bed, clothes strewn about, half-finished sugary drinks on the shelves. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, only what you might expect to find in an average middle schooler's bedroom after a late night studying. A woman, perhaps Jamie's mom, stood by the bed and beckoned us to enter, inviting us to pick up anything that appeared amiss. Warwick Community Officer Danny Maggiacomo stood nearby.
This was not a crime scene, or a drill. In fact, Jamie wasn't even Jamie, but a non-binary life-sized stuffed doll, dressed in a middle schooler's typical clothes. Jamie's bedroom, in reality, was a classroom at Warwick Veterans Middle School, and Jamie's "mom" was Judith Menzey, Director of Community Based Programs in New York. Her thorough and insightful February 21st "Power to the Parent" interactive presentation, "Hidden in Plain Sight," sponsored by Mayor Joseph Solomon and the Warwick City Council, was designed to inform and empower parents of middle schoolers about current drug culture.
Upon closer inspection, what at first seemed quite ordinary might be something hiding in plain sight, Menzey told us. Gingerly, I lifted the cap from sleeping Jamie's head, upon which a small gold pin had aroused my suspicion. Judith turned the cap over to reveal a small Velcro pocket, presenting a small plastic bag. A plastic soda bottle, twisted open in the middle, still containing soda in either end with an ample storage compartment in the center.
"My daughter's first dance is coming up, " a mother said, overwhelmed, as we all were, with the various means of disguising paraphernalia and hiding drugs and alcohol on one's person.
A father picked up one of Jamie's shoes to discover a similarly hidden pocket sewn in the tongue of the shoe, with adequate room for a small plastic bag. He mentioned the sheer cost of athletic shoes, adding, "Now there's something new to worry about."
Today, spiked punch and marijuana brownies seem passé considering Gummy Bears laced with narcotics, flasks resembling personal hygiene cases, and electronic cigarette chargers disguised as USB drives when plugged into a laptop like Jamie's. All may be easily purchased on line with a VISA gift card.
Colorful, scented and flavored, smooth and shiny, the "vape pen," appeals to all the senses. The "electronic cigarette," "hookah," or brand name "Juul," may be disguised as a lipstick or an inhaler. It requires accompanying accessories in the form of Equally appealing cartridges, or "flavor pods," containing the nicotine equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. Yet the Electronic Nicotine Delivery System may be modified to contain morphine, even meth.
Pot, Mary Jane, reefer, doobie, joint, it was called. Today's marijuana vocabulary is regional, and ever-changing: "dab," "wax," "butter," "421," and "710," ("oil," upside-down), euphemisms for smoking, or boiling off the resin of the leaf, are woven into designs and logos on t-shirts and caps, discreet messaging for dealers and buyers. Lung diseases yet to be identified await them, as well as those exposed to the second-hand smoke.
At Tuesday night's presentation, Warwick Veterans Middle School principal, David Tober, praised the "invaluable work" of student assistant counselor, Cathy Ricci, whom along with Pam Grasso, provide a program of prevention, intervention, and referral which serves and guides the students. Also present Thursday evening were Warwick Mayor Joe Solomon and director of the Kent County regional coalition Kathy Sullivan.
Tober's colleagues, Warwick City schools' superintendent, Dr. Philip Thornton, school committee chairpersons, Karen Bachus and David Testa, Warwick Veterans Middle School assistant principals, Allison Nascenzi and Melissa Centracchio, guidance counselor, James Naughton, and mathematics instructor Ryan Lombardi were also in attendance.
A healthy school climate is evident with the bulletin boards lining the school halls, with positive messages of "Be your own person," and "Stress is normal," along with revealing personal stories of young celebrities affected by their parents' drug or alcohol abuse. (Ironically, one was photographed wearing a subtle flask bracelet.)
Menzey emphasized, beyond monitoring one's children, the value in the moments when parents are at home with their children. For instance, opening a window when using cleaning fluids or while painting when vapors are present, to protect the lungs, brings awareness to the risks of inhaling toxic fumes, or "huffing." Modeling behaviors in these teachable moments are for the moments down the road when parents are not with their child, their child's friends, or in their child's room.