Written by Phil Cerroni
By Jess Paniszczyn
Students and parents flocked to the Irving ISD’s Drug and Violence Summit held at MacArthur High School on Dec. 15. Months of planning and coordination were involved in the educational sessions designed to make the community more aware of the drug and violence issues that exist and teach people to deal with these issues proactively.
A blind twist of fate made the summit a ready resource to the Irving community, parents and students on the morning following a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. The summit allowed people to voice their concerns, learn about programs the district has in place to help students and families dealing with difficult situations, and interact with educators, police officers, mental health professionals and each other as they worked to ensure their children’s safety in a sometimes volatile world.
“We are responding to our society and the issues we have seen with violence, bullying and the regretful incidents from (Newtown, CT)” event coordinator Ernesto Mendizadal said. “We want to be proactive. Our students should be able to respond positively when they are approached with any negative influences.
“If families have issues, Irving ISD schools offer counseling, and we have family outreach programs. We have personnel who can collaborate with psychologists, psychiatrists and other medical professionals.
“Our staff has been thoroughly trained throughout the district, so students receive the same message from teachers, counselors, administrators and even our custodial staff. For instance, all of our personnel have been trained on what bullying is, what to look for and how to intervene. Our students are also being taught about bullying, so they can be proactive. We are truly saying that our house is your house.
“The school district has already put systems in place throughout to make sure we avoid incidences with discipline, drug abuse, physical abuse, fights in the community, and incidences students can get into inside the school as well as outside of the school. Our house is not only your house; our house is also our community. Strong families are the key for everything we do. If we can help empower our families, we can help create a stronger community. If we can have strong communities, we can have a strong nation, and we won’t see tragedies like the one we saw yesterday.
“I haven’t heard of any other district that is putting something like this together. The district is collaborating with City officials and the Irving Police Department to bring awareness to our families. Based on the feedback we’ve received, parents appreciate that the district has put something like this together, especially before Christmas.”
As a parent, Gabriella Rojas learned some valuable lessons about who she can trust during the summit. Her son Oscar served as her translator.
“These classes are helping her become more open to the world and speak with us about drugs and violence,” Oscar said. “She knows now that she can’t just blindly trust anyone. Even our closest friends can be predators as well.
“She realizes that she needs to check our backpacks. She needs to know who our friends are, how they are and what they act like.”
Other parents also learned some unsettling facts at the summit.
“I learned about places where kids will hide things that I would never have thought of,” Rebecca Gribble said. “I also learned about kids abusing certain over-the-counter medications and household items that I would have never considered abused drugs. These are things that generally parents, like me, would just leave out and not think anything about.
“I also learned that when students go to the Justice Center there is a holistic program. Students are offered health, physical, dental and other programs. There is a second chance program that helps the parents as well.
“One suggestion was that families with discipline issues could have a boot camp in their own home rather than sending kids away to boot camp.
“Personally, I plan on going home and checking my son’s room out. Now I have new ideas about where to look. I can also pay more attention to what his friends wear and notice gang related attire. I trust my son. But you can only trust a teenager so much, because there is so much stuff out there. There are just too many opportunities for him to get into trouble. I’d rather be proactive, than be active after he is in trouble.”