In recent years, Roaring Fork Valley schools and the school district have begun offering more parent education opportunities than ever before. In November, Basalt has two offerings on tap that will address student vaping and restorative practices. Both events are free and offer dinner as well.
Vaping 101, Nov. 6, Basalt Middle School, 5:30 p.m.
If you’ve been watching the news lately, the headlines on vaping are alarming. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, vaping-related lung illnesses have sent over 1,600 adults and youth to the hospital nationwide and caused 34 deaths in the past year. That tally includes 11 confirmed cases in Colorado and the first possible death in the state of a Denver 18-year-old a week ago.
For the past few winters, Basalt Middle School has invited School Resource Officer Thomas Wright to present to families on vaping. This year that presentation has been moved up to November. Any regional family or community member and students are encouraged to attend and bring their questions.
“Times have changed since parents were middle schoolers,” says BMS Principal Jennifer Ellsperman. “There’s a lot to learn, even lately – it changes monthly now – and it’s really important for parents to be informed on what’s happening. The more informed parents can be, the more they can have the right conversations with kids, know what to look for, and address it head on.”
According to Ellsperman, youth can get addicted to vaping as quickly as a week after starting. Vaping is considered not only extremely addictive but also a gateway back to smoking. Alarming research came out last year from Colorado’s annual Healthy Kids survey, suggesting that the Roaring Fork Valley has one of the highest teen vaping rates in the nation. Rates in the valley are three to four times the national average. This is especially concerning because vaping is as bad for developing young brains as it is for their lungs.
Officer’s Wright’s presentation walks families through that research and addresses the science of what vaping is and what it can do to a student’s health. Wright also shares his personal story about his son, who developed “popcorn lung” from vaping.
“His personal story really resonates,” says Paul Hassel, BMS’s prevention specialist. “He comes from the law enforcement side, but this is more of a public health kind of conversation that makes the information digestible. He’s not lecturing. He’s saying, ‘I really care about your kids and we all need to be talking about this.”
Hassel also will be available to address how parents can have productive conversations around the topic. Scare tactics are out, he says, while open communication and a focus on the facts is more likely to be taken seriously by your teen.
Wright will also address the legal consequences of underage vaping. According to Ellsperman, students as young as 5th grade have been caught vaping at school in the past few years and there has already been one reported case this year even though BMS generally sees only a small handful of cases each year.
“It’s not rampant, not something all kids are doing or talking about or sharing that it’s happening at school,” says Ellsperman, “but it’s enough that we’re on high alert. Thankfully when things happen, students are sharing with us through Safe 2 Tell [a statewide anonymous reporting mechanism].”
Vaping at school is considered a tobacco violation, resulting in a one-day in-school suspension where the student completes a state-provided four-hour education module. Parent meetings with the school and Officer Wright are also required.
“Having Officer Wright sit in on the meetings is a choice we make as a school,” says Ellsperman. “Together we try to figure out what the root cause of the student’s action is and provide support for the student to address it. That might be counseling or family meetings or getting the student involved in sports.”
Wright also will bring his exhibit of confiscated vape equipment in order to show the diversity of misleading products on the market. Although there is discussion about banning flavors and raising the minimum age of purchase to 21, vapes are currently available to young adults starting at age 18. Ellsperman says most grocery stores and even the 7-11 across the street from the school sell vaping equipment such as pens, pods, and e-cigarettes. Students have also purchased their gear online, where the age limit is not seriously enforced.
Both Ellsperman and Hassel note that students at nearly every grade receive some education on vaping through a Crew class lesson, through the Second Step social-emotional curriculum that helps teach students how to make good choices and gives students perspective that “not everyone’s doing it,” and health and science classes in later grades that go into more detail about substance abuse. Much of this education has not occurred yet this year, however, and parents are encouraged to bring their students along to Vaping 101. This year, with free pizza being offered to attendees, parents might even succeed.
Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m., Basalt Middle School library, free. Spanish translation available only with advance notice to firstname.lastname@example.org. RSVP appreciated to email@example.com.
Restorative Practices in Roaring Fork Schools: An Education Event for Families and the Community, Nov. 12, Basalt Elementary School, 5:30 p.m.
Over the past two years, the phrase “restorative practices” has increasingly entered the Roaring Fork Schools lexicon. This isn’t some newfangled program. The Colorado Department of Education supports the use of restorative practices in schools, and the state has introduced legislation recommending the use of restorative practices in both the judicial and educational systems. Community organizations such as YouthZone and police departments are receiving training as well as staff and students.
“There’s a ton of research that links the implementation of restorative practices to better attendance, less exclusionary discipline, and less challenging student behaviors,” says Roaring Fork School’s Responsive Services Coordinator Grace Tennant. “I feel like we’re moving in a really positive direction.”
Not to be confused with “restorative justice,” which is related but comes into play at a much higher level of intervention, “restorative practices” are primarily a prevention-based social-emotional system that is geared toward building community, relationships, and collaboration school-wide. Training has already been offered to Basalt Elementary School staff and both Basalt Middle School staff and students. Basalt High School has a training in the works as well, so it’s time to bring families more formally into the loop.
This 90-minute parent evening will be run by Judy Hawkins and Alicia Garcia of ReSolutionaries, who have worked closely with the schools and Tennant. Families will learn the basics of how restorative practices are being integrated into the schools to build community and resolve conflict. They’ll have the ability to ask questions, allay concerns about myths (such as that restorative practices don’t come with consequences), and learn about the foundational strategies of the 5Rs.
The 5Rs is a focus on building relationships, respect, and responsibility in the community and then, when conflict arises, finding equitable ways to repair the harm and then reintegrate parties back into the community. Although this district-sponsored event takes place at Basalt Elementary School, Tennant emphasizes that these are not elementary principles.
“We’re going to talk with parents about the same things that we’re talking about with students and staff in all of our buildings,” Tennant says. “The only difference is that if we’re talking to a kindergartener, we might simplify the language a little. It’s the same steps. The 5 Rs are universal from early childhood up through high school.”
Families also will learn about the restorative structures being used in schools, what restorative agreements look like, and how the same strategies can work for parents at home as well. Tennant gives the example of a student who doesn’t do her homework:
“If my daughter doesn’t do her homework, her punitive punishment might be to stay for detention, but how does that teach her to do her homework?” says Tennant. “Restorative practices instead might teach the skills that students are lagging in. Something that might be more fitting is having her decide when she’s going to finish the homework. We solve the problem collaboratively together and allow all parties to have a voice.”
Embedding restorative practices into the schools is an ongoing process, and Tennant hopes parents become partners in the process as well. The evening will include dinner, childcare, and both English and Spanish classes.
“It’s important for us to share the message universally so that everyone is informed on what the school district is working to achieve with students and staff,” she says. “It’s about increasing the sense of belonging of everyone who walks through our school buildings, and so it’s important that we inform our families about what it means to support a restorative culture and what that means for their children.”
Dinner and childcare provided, evening available in English & Spanish, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.