Taylor Green & Brendan Hall
High school is one of the most influential times in a teenager’s life. It is a time for teens to explore new ideas, places, and their identity. However, this exploration can sometimes lead to teens experimenting with drugs.
At Science Leadership Academy, there are a few of incidents of drug usage on school grounds. However, in early November there was a situation where students were caught with marijuana. This episode resulted in the suspension and expulsion of multiple students causing hostility in the SLA community.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that SLA has experienced issues with substance usage. The only difference between this event and other drug-based offenses was the intense course of action.
Before the disciplinary transfer of two students was instated, the staff tried to make sure that those involved were fairly represented before a final decision was made.
Math teacher Victor Hernandez’s advisees were directly involved in the incident, “My role as an advisor is to advocate for my students, and to be present during that whole process.” Mr. Hernandez explained. He continued by mentioning his previous experience with drug usage during his teaching tenure.
“I worked in San Francisco at El Camino High and at Esperanza High in North Philly.” shares Mr. Hernandez. “I’d say there was very less drug usage at those schools than here.”
Despite Mr. Hernandez’s optimism, drug-related offenses can cause a disturbance in any community. There were some people who felt as though the situation was unfair. Some people felt unsafe after the ordeal was done and some who were angered by what happened. “I see it as having a big impact on the student’s’ ability to trust or believe in the teachers and the staff as somebody they can turn to.” Mr. Hernandez states. “I think it can even cause division among students.”
With that being said, the incident did cause tension among the student body. Many students felt as though they couldn’t trust each other.
Co-Principal Aaron Gerwer shares that “There was a bit of frustration when we heard about the ‘no snitches’ subculture going on. That really bothered us because we want there to be an honest communication between staff and students.”
It is evident that the students and staff have a strong bond that they want to maintain. If this connection is lost, it can make the relationship between teachers and students difficult in the future.
Mr. Hernandez was affected deeply by this incident specifically. He shared that he had a strong relationship with his advisee who was expelled from SLA. He was upset to see his advisee go down this path of drug usage and they could not have developed more of a relationship during their short tenure at the school.
“I feel bad that my opportunity to impact this student’s life was stopped in some way because your relationship with your advisees is a four-year thing.” Hernandez shares.
In an effort to not replicate a similar situation with drug use, advisors had a conversation about the School District’s Code of Conduct and Drug Policies after the incident occurred. They emphasized that drug usage will not be tolerated by anyone at the school. Advisors used this meeting to come to an understanding about the repercussions of indulging in drugs while in school. However, these advisory meetings are far from the only things that the faculty has tried to prevent drug usage.
“We’ve been talking nonstop ever since the situation happened. We’ve had conferences and professional development meetings.” Gerwer explains. “We also talked about changing the rules at SLA for two weeks. It came to a point where we realized that’s not who we are.”
Part of the reason Gerwer and other faculty members didn’t go through with changing the rules pertaining to drugs was that Science Leadership Academy is a school that values individuality and giving students more freedom than most learning institutions. This trust between students and staff is what makes SLA a unique community.
“We don’t want something like [revising the rules] to change our relationship with all of the students.” Gerwer states.
Students even offered suggestions to staff about what they could do to avoid another situation like this further down the line.
Mr. Hernandez shared, “Specifically, my advisory and other advisories say that they would like the administration to do more. The first thing that we have to do is figure out what is doing more.”
This incident exposed a negative side of the community. Science Leadership Academy is affected by substances, as many schools are. The consequence was unfortunate for students and teachers involved. However, the school staff did not want to change their disciplinary policies concerning drugs and as a result, SLA has continued to provide a space where teachers can trust that students have good intentions.