PTA General Meeting Minutes 1-14-2015

By Carin Barbanel,

The meeting came to order at 7:05 pm.
Hayley Gorenberg. Programming Chair, opened the meeting, saying how proud she is to welcome our panel of two professionals from Freedom Institute (, Rachel Henes and Katherine Prudente. Hayley announced the agenda for the evening: a brief introduction from Dr. Tony Fisher, the main presentation from Freedom Institute’s (FI’s) two representatives, a Q and A with a panel of the people from FI, Dr. Tony Fisher, HCHS Principal and Lisa Siegmann, Assistant Principal - Grades 10-12. After the panel general HCHS PTA information would be introduced.

Dr. Tony Fisher introduced the main topic: Risky and healthy behaviors. Dr. Fisher emphasized that HCHS’ first obligation is to take care of our children, and then educate them. To that end, getting a clear image of drug and alcohol usage is useful. The High School Administration engaged Freedom Institute (FI) to create and administer a student survey to find out what our kids are doing, when pivotal points of choice occur, and how we can help our students navigate these points.

This survey, completed during February and March of 2013, was HCHS’ second, so we have some comparative information. The first survey was administered during 2008-2009.

Freedom Institute gave us a lot of facts, some troubling, some positive. Alcohol use was down for 12 month and thirty day measures from the previous survey. 84% of our students feel valued as a person, which is a big jump from 47%. Lots of suspicions were confirmed. More risky behavior happens during the senior year, with more male than female students taking those risks. The most fascinating revelation from Dr. Fisher’s perception is students’ misperceptions. Younger kids feel that there is way more drug and alcohol use by seniors than there actually is. This is a consistent pattern. To disrupt the pattern, Freedom Institute is doing workshops with ninth graders. Rachel Henes, LMSW, FI School Program Director, and Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT, Prevention Project Manager, introduced the Freedom Institute itself and the goals of the presentation. 

Katherine Prudente started the presentation: 
The Freedom Institute has worked in 40 independent schools for twenty years, providing expertise in the areas of drug and alcohol prevention. This breadth of data provides us with an idea of trends across New York City, and insight into abuse in this age group. This helps us achieve our goals of delaying and preventing early alcohol and other drug abuse.

Tonight’s presentation has two general goals. One is to educate the parent body about general trends, including the basic information in the field of drug and alcohol abuse by 12-17 year olds. Second is to address the HCHS student body’s survey results, and key prevention methods that may be useful based upon that data.

We will review the key findings of the survey and contextualize them, using general numerical statistics calculated by CASA (Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) at Columbia University for their 2013 national teen survey.

•    Effective prevention at home includes open lines of communication and modeling behavior. Parents’ examples are influential at all ages.
•    Teens who experience high stress are more likely to use substances.
•    Teens report that alcohol and tobacco are the biggest problems. The main reasons that teens give for using substances are that they are “fun,” to “fit in,” and to relieve stress or because they feel lonely or depressed.
•    1/3 of student surveyed know someone who abuses over the counter medicines. High school students are more likely to use marijuana than to smoke cigarettes.
•    Cigarettes, alcohol and pot are the easiest substances to access.
•    12-17 year olds who see others abusing substances on social media are at increased risk. Social norms are reinforced by perceived social norms. If kids are seeing others drink, the perception of drinking becomes more normative.
•    Kids who watch suggestive TV shows are more likely to emulate those behaviors.
•    90% of parents think it’s harder to stay safe than it was in the past.
•    Kids who are home alone are twice as likely to use pot and alcohol than those who are supervised, three times as likely to use tobacco. Kids who are home alone once per week were compared to kids who were home alone more often.

On to the specifics for HCHS:
More students perceived use than there was actual use. Over half of the students have never had an alcoholic drink during their entire time at HCHS. Having said that, there is a trend of increased usage from grades 8 through 12. Still, the vast majority do not drink at all or only once or twice a year. A small subgroup of upperclassmen are binge drinkers, with binge drinking being defined as imbibing 4 drinks for women and 5 drinks for men in a single sitting, about 2 hours.

The vast majority have never tried or used pot. The catchment includes students who have rarely used pot. Again, as students get older, the number who have tried pot increases. A notable point for prevention is that 65% said that parents were not at home when there are parties with drugs and pot present.

Normative beliefs can be powerful. Katherine explained social norms theory and that researchers have found that the more use students think there is, the more use there will be – even if the perception is wrong. Young people consistently overestimate alcohol and other drug use by their peers, which in turn leads to greater use. HCHS students dramatically overestimate usage, as demonstrated by the survey:

Alcohol Use:
•    In the 9th grade, 73% don't drink alcohol. The students believe that only 23% abstain.
•    In the 10th grade 61% never drink and only 11% drink routinely. 17% use one to two times per year. The students thought 74% use that frequently.
Marijuana Use:
•    In the 9th grade, 97% never use marijuana. The students believe that that 39% do.
•    In the 10th grade, 17% use one to two times per year. The students thought 74% use that frequently.
Rachel Henes continued the presentation:
Overall, the survey showed very good news. The question is how to keep this going to continue the positive trend shown from 2008 to 2013. The survey did not query sexual activity but Rachel reviewed this to inform parents of societal norms.

Background Information is taken from data provided by the CDC. Nearly half of teens in grades 9-12 have had sex. A quarter of them said they used an intoxicant during sex. Intoxicants lessen inhibitions and anxieties. Drinking and drug use increase the likelihood of risky sexual activity: having intercourse, having unsafe sex, unintended pregnancy and perpetrating sexual assault.

Perceived social norms do play a role when it comes to sexual activity. Studies show kids overestimate the number of kids who are sexually active, the frequency of activity, and general comfort with hooking up culture. So, while many are not comfortable with this, 12-17 year olds assume their peers are. Girls often overestimate how much boys expect they'll drink. Girls overestimate boys’ expectations of acquiescence. Boys underestimate other males’ discomfort with sexist comments and behaviors.  This leads to silence which sends the message that this behavior is ok.  Studies have shown when boys think that other boys support sexual violence, they will report more willingness to have sex with someone who does not consent and less willingness to intervene.
Alcohol is the most widely used date rape drug. 89% of date rapes occurred when girls were incapacitated due to alcohol. 44% raped of those raped are under eighteen. One in five college women has either been raped or endured an attempted rape. 90% of these acts were committed by someone the girls knew. Most of these events happened in the home of a student, at a party, or during a social encounter.
As a parent, the most important things to do to help prevent these issues are:
•    Be actively involved in your teen’s life - know with whom he or she is hanging out, what they are thinking about.
•    Communicate with them regularly about the importance of respecting others and not using alcohol and/or drugs.  Also communicate about gender roles - research shows that boys who adhere to traditional gender roles (boys should be tough, aggressive, show no emotion, etc) are more likely to sexually harass or assault women.
•    Seize teachable moments and discuss pressure/messages in society that teens get that support drinking and/or drug use, and disrespect toward women and girls.
•    Set clear expectations about use and healthy sex/relationships.  
•    Remember, you are the most influential person in your child's life -even if he or she doesn't act like it!

Students can be empowered to change these supposed norms. Anticipatory socialization is one method. This includes role playing, daydreaming narratives, and positive visualization. Lots of times kids need options. If given choices, they found ways to be healthier. The majority of kids have positive beliefs, encouraging healthy attitudes and behaviors. Even telling students to “hold onto why you're not drinking,” is effective. Shock based programs are not effective.

Ideally, families will engage in regular consistent communication about healthy behaviors. Set the stage for a focused conversation to ask what your teen can envision doing should someone offer them an unhealthy option. Model the seriousness of the conversation by turning off your cellphone, computer, and TV. Actively show that you care by asking your child questions without accusing. How do they behave if drugs or alcohol are offered? What can they do if they see a situation that looks unsafe? Ask what kids think. Find out. Then convey your ideas.
It may be hard to communicate but being a parent is much harder than being a friend. This communication of values is proven to be effective. Ultimately, you are the main influence. Kids feel loved and supported, even if they don’t show it. They do listen, even if they don't act like it in the moment

Parents can have powerful impacts. Be actively involved. Ask where your kids are going and with whom. Show an interest in what they are doing and thinking. Talk with them regularly about taking care of themselves and others. They should be empowered to intervene with others when it is safe, and to call you if they see any behaviors that are discomfiting. Often a student can simply employ misdirection, such as wondering what is going on “over there,” feigning interest in activities elsewhere at a party. Avoidance does not have to mean self-righteous pronouncements. Seize teachable moments. Bring up sensitive topics in a non-threatening manner. Discuss consequences of drug and alcohol calmly. Each family is different, but genetic predispositions my behoove you to discuss your family’s history. Genetic links and histories of addiction may help your teen avoid serious consequences. Let your kids know that, within the context of being realistic, you don't want them to use. A glass of wine with dinner for an adult is very different than teens ‘kegging.’ Discuss healthy sex. Talk early and often about gender roles. Males who subscribe to gender roles are more likely to be harassers. What does it mean to state that “men really always want sex.” Don't joke about assault. These jokes usually support attitudes that lead to rape myths such as: Rapes are usually committed by a stranger on the street, or that girls might be “asking for it” by wearing short skirts.
Talk about respect, and contract flirting with harassment. Set clear rules, such as don't hook up with someone who cannot walk straight. Discuss consent and respect. Make sure understand your teen understands what assault is and that it is a crime. One glaring semantic difference is the divergent answers to two questions asked of boys. Asking, “Have you ever forced a girl to have sex?” gets many more yesses that asking “Have you ever raped a girl?”
Summary of suggestions from the FI team to help parents communicate with their children:
•    Seize reachable and teachable moments.
•    Help your child think about how to safely intervene if he or she saw someone pressuring someone to drink or have sex.
•    Set clear and consistent expectations.
•    As kids get older parents may fear being too firm with them. Don't. Even when it’s uncomfortable.
•    Avoid long lectures.
•    Be a good role model.
•    Find a phrase other than ‘man up.’ This comes across as sexist.
•    Be on same page as parenting partner if you have one. Talk about these issues in advance of discussing them with your children. Even if you have different opinions, present united front.
•    Enforcing consequences is important. Your goal is not to be your child’s friend.
•    Other parents may allow things you don’t. Let your children know that you are comfortable with that and even when at another child’s home, your rules apply.
•    If a child is being offensive, call him or her on it. Letting it slide equals permissiveness, acceptance of the behavior. Do not accept that of which you do not approve.
•    Do not make abusing easy. Keep medicines away from teens. Locking a cabinet may be insufficient protection.
•    Limit sleepovers and set curfews.
•    Check with other parents to be sure that they are home. Trust, but verify.
•    Watch for signs such as new reliance on breath mints and eye drops. Note changes in behavior.

After this clear summary of rules from FI’s representatives, Hayley thanked Rachel and Katherine, and went to the Q and A segment, which brought Tony Fisher and Lisa Siegmann onto the stage with the two representatives of FI.
Ms. Siegmann started the conversation by saying that communications work best when the situation doesn’t feel volatile. Plan how to defuse a situation by planning in advance. Ask your child what he or she will do in case of alcohol poisoning or something not consensual occurring? Ask kids to do a gut check and listen to their ‘spidey sense,’ regardless of who is around. Role play realistically or at least talk bluntly in advance. Come up with what your child can really do. This could be a simple interruption or spilling a drink. Let your child know that it is always great to call an adult. The primary goal is to do whatever feels safe, both socially and physically.

Parent question. Do you risk them your teen not talking with you as he or she doesn’t want to risk disappointing you? Tell kids that you want them to talk with you, Kids often do not have their priorities straight and will hide a dangerous situation so as to protect a peer or themselves from “getting in trouble.”

One technique parents use to help kids make wise decisions in a pressured situation is to promise their child that there will be absolutely no questions, no recriminations, no yelling that night if he or she calls for a rescue. Many times, a friend of that child will say that just knowing he or she could ask that friend to please call their parent saved them. Imagine the power of that, just one night of keeping calm can give kids a pathway to safety. It’s often that simple. Fully a quarter of kids said that they took advantage of this option to call with concerns about friends.

Ms. Siegmann emphasized that while HCHS has made terrific progress in having kids watch out for themselves she feels that the ‘onlooker’ conversation is not there yet. Our kids don’t yet know how to intervene.

Parent questions. Did the survey ask about sexual behavior at HCHS? No.
Ms. Siegmann: It’s clear there is work to do in this area as well. The differenced in ages when students hit that marker are gender based. Girls hit those numbers earlier. Part of learning how to help kids was learning what to look for. The Junior Semiformal is worrisome as it is a time when many students make poor choices. At the entry there are one woman and one man checking the bags kids bring along. While checking bags, they’re checking for overly fresh breath, clear eyes, steadiness of speech and movement. It is a gauntlet and the kids know it. Parents are responsible after the party, but sometimes one hears of parties at a weekend house while parents think all of the kids are safely at someone’s apartment in the city. Seeing the kids leave the party is often not a time of happiness.

Dr. Fisher: Seniors are looking for release from pressure. The worst behavior, that cohort of boys who imbibe, are usually cutting loose right after they have finished the college application process. We do speak to Seniors about how to manage their second semester. Keep each other safe. Help boys take it down a little. He continues addressing the issue as it comes up, looking for the teachable moments.

Parent question. Expectations sometimes drive behavior. Have you shared stats with kids?
Dr. Fisher: We see the 9th grade as the key year to start the communication process. We have shared some data but as there were more than 400 questions we are being selective.
Ms. Siegmann: These are Hunter kids, who know they’re smart and are somewhat opinionated. They absolutely do not believe the data. They are sure that the student have grossly understated their actual usage of alcohol, and will argue back continually. We are presenting the data, but it is not a simple exchange but a long term cultural shift in conversation.
Same Parent, another question. Have you tracked how kids who drink minimally senior year versus kids who do not drink at all fare in college? Dr. Fisher: This is different section about which we have no data. Anecdotally, the idea that kids change and dramatically start to experiment in college, going off the deep end, seems farfetched.

Parent question. Should parents share their experiences?
Kids may not learn from our mistakes. If you learned from an experience, share it from heart. Help a child use the story as instruction in how to prevent a similar situation from ensnaring them. If it’s simply a ‘back in my day’ story, if it won’t be functional for the child, keeping it to yourself may be wiser.
Parent question. Did you do any concurrent validity questioning? Did you check for measuring bias? Katherine: FI develops survey and compares the results to national norms.

Parent question. What is your view of underreporting?
Katherine: The levels seem on par. We do not think there is any significant underreporting.

Parent question. Have you had any discussions about social media such as Tinder for teens?
Rachel: Boundaries in social media are often poorly drawn, but this particular app isn’t prevalent. This is an opportunity for discussion. Please consider asking your teen how he or she understands intimacy? What are the steps into a relationship? What is the difference in what they experience face to face versus using an app that mimics proximity? Should emotional or physical contact come first? Teens like social relationships.
Ms. Siegmann: 10th grade health class is having conversations about steps in developing a relationship.
Dr. Fisher: Some boys showed some troubling attitudes during the session run by FI on community day. Their idea of appropriate behavior and where the line of consent was, how that line is delineated were unpleasantly surprising.
Ms. Siegmann: We have identified areas of concern and are working on them. We do ask parents to be aware, keep talking with your kids, asking those intrusive questions about where are you going and with whom.

Hayley: Thank you all for coming to speak with us tonight. This has been very enlightening. We are going to invite the Auction Committee to the stage now. 

PTA Business

Jennifer Lemberg: Anna Walters and I are co-chairing the Auction Committee this year. We are so excited to introduce this year’s theme: Life’s A Beach, Catch a wave and help our kids! We’re excited to discuss all of our planning for the event as well. We’re on for a fun, casual evening May 9th. We need to earn a little more than $100,000. Please read your auction emails. Please print out donation forms or take donation forms from the table we set up tonight to all of the local businesses you frequent, restaurants, shops, even the dry cleaners. A button on the page takes you right to the auction site*.  Most importantly, show up and have fun!

Thanks so much for listening; we look forward to hearing from you!

Giles Hunt, Annual Fund: Thanks everyone for your generosity! We’re enjoying a very successful winter fundraising season, which we hope to extend so we can reach our fundraising goal. Part of what makes this school so great is all of the opportunities we can provide for our kids thanks to your donations. Every gift, large and small, is much appreciated. If you have not already had the chance, please donate. There is a link to the annual fund right on the PTA’s homepage,