HIGHTSTOWN – A local parent pleaded with Board of Education to take a look at the drug problem at the high school during its meeting on Monday night.

“Recently we lost another student, an ex-student, last week, Andrew Kurs,” said board member Peter Bussone. “I want to thank the administration and staff and all the teachers who were able to go the services.”

Police responded to the residence at 5:32 p.m. last Monday and found the 19-year-old unresponsive at his home, according to Sgt. Benjamin Miller of the Hightstown Police Department. CPR measures were initiated and Narcan was deployed, Sgt, Miller said. The subject was subsequently transported to Princeton Medical Center where he was pronounced dead at 6:16 p.m, as previously reported.

The manner and cause of death is under investigation, according to police.

Andrew Kurs is the son of Hightstown borough council member Seth Kurs.

“The parents are receiving people, I believe it is called shiva, starting today and I believe it runs for a couple of days,” Mr. Bussone said. “It just another tragic, tragic loss of a good person.”

Resident Andrea Baverov said that she had the pleasure of going to school with the Councilman Kurs.

“I’ve known him since middle school,” she said. “This happened to a very wonderful family that was well-respected. I was unable to attend the funeral but I heard there was tons and tons of lines. I was able to attend the shiva and it was a lot of people in their home.

“So if it can happen to them it can happen to anyone. I request that the board take a serious hard look at the drug problem. Addiction really does not discriminate and it’s hitting our local community really hard,” she said.

She added that the fact this happened to a good family is a case in point.

“I don’t have the answers and I don’t know if it’s a widespread growing problem,” she said. “I hope you can consult with individuals and groups that can give you guidance.”

She said that she can only speak since her kids have been at the elementary school. “The fifth grade D.A.R.E. program is phenomenal,” she said.Ms. Baverov said she felt the need to share the distressing news with her children.

“My son, who is a sixth grader said, ‘But mom, I don’t understand if he did the D.A.R.E program why would he do that,’” she said. “So somewhere between the D.A.R.E. program and when they graduate as seniors we lose them.”She said that parents have a responsibility.

“In talking with a lot of people this week, there was mention that there are a lot of children in our school district experimenting with things,” she said. “I just ask you take a serious look at it and see what we can do.”

Anything that can be done in the future so that this never happens again would be greatly appreciated, she added.Board of Education President Alice Weisman said the board is aware that drugs are an issue and have not ignored the problem.

“We are very, very aware that this is a problem,” she said. “Just like everybody else, we have been trying to come up with new ways to try and reach students and work with our guidance in the high school to try and stop kids from getting to the point where these horrible things happen.”She said board members are just as affected as the community is by tragedy.

“I appreciate you coming here and I appreciate what you are saying,” she said. “We are all trying to work together and think of ways in ways which we as a school district and as a community can try and help kids so this doesn’t happen.”

An alumni student who graduated three years ago and who wished to remain anonymous said in HHS the only drug she knew that was going around was pot but everyone and their mother smokes pot these days.

“Although I have no opinion on pot and whether it should be legal or is bad, I will say it’s the least dangerous drug someone can get into compared to the other crap out there,” she said.

A student who is a junior at the high school who wished to remain anonymous said there is no real drug problem at the high school.

He also agreed the most popular drug is marijuana.

“Not everyone is doing that,” he said. “As for more serious drugs, there is no real issue. There are little to no occurrences of teens abusing serious or hardcore drugs at HHS. I do think that teens need more education when it comes to drug use and underage drinking.

“As teenagers, many feel that they know more than they actually do, which leads to them not making the best decisions,” he said. “A lot of teens do not come forward if they have an issue with substance abuse because of fear of authority and consequences.”

He said while underage drinking is more of an issue than drug use at HHS, both should be discussed within the student body.

Mr. Bussone said that all he knows is that in the three years that he has been on the board, the staff at the high school has “moved mountains trying to bring in programs and outreach.”

“Different programs have been established,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking. You just don’t know. If we could identify these kids we would do anything we could to save them.”

You just don’t know what’s going to set that child off to experiment, let alone to do that kind of damage to themselves, he said.

He advised Ms. Baverov to reach out to the high school to “set her mind at ease.”

“You’ll be amazed at the amount of programs and just the knowledge that they have and what they are trying to do for our students,” he said.

Hightstown High School Principal Dennis Vinson said in an email on Wednesday that EWRSD’s Board of Education defines one of its ongoing goals as ensuring the safety and emotional well-being of its students.

“Hightstown High School addresses drug and alcohol prevention and intervention through a variety of means,” he said.

Director of Counseling K-12 Jessica Smedley said in an email on Wednesday that the counseling department, along with district administration, relies on best practices for promoting social and emotional health among the students.

“We have sought guidance and consultation from Dr. Maurice Elias from Rutgers University to help review and refine our social emotional learning opportunities on the K-12 spectrum,” she said. “The high school and middle school have also participated in the Rutgers Depression Prevention Initiative, led by Dr. Jami Young, Rutgers University.

The district has a board-approved health curriculum that is delivered to all students in grades K-12. She said specifically in the high school, drug/alcohol prevention education is infused into each year’s health curriculum.

“In the 2014-15 school year, the board supported an initiative to bring back the successful Teen PEP program, which uses a peer-to-peer education model,” she said. “In partnership with the Center for Supportive Schools, three schools in the district, including the high school, are actively participating in the Campaign Connect, designed to support New Jersey schools in becoming safer, more supportive, engaging and inspiring.”

She said that they employ two student assistance counselors in the district, one at the middle school and one at the high school, whose jobs are specifically focused around prevention and intervention of drug/alcohol abuse.

“These specialized counselors teach lessons through a push-in model to health classes periodically,” she said. “They also run small counseling groups and see students individually to address drug/alcohol use, family substance abuse problems and ancillary mental health concerns.”

She said that their student assistance counselors’ services are available to all families and announcements about their services are disseminated to students and parents.

“Both Student Assistance Counselors provide professional development to faculty and staff about drug trends in our community,” she said. “They have also made arrangements for special faculty presentations featuring guest speakers from the Mercer County Prosecutors’ Office and our local police departments.”

So that the counselors may make the appropriate referrals to those families in need of drug/alcohol intervention, they regularly invite non-profit and private practitioners to department meetings to explain their programs and treatment options, she added.

She said the student assistance counselor, a child’s assigned school counselor, the school nurse and the child’s assistant principal are all involved when a student is found positive for drugs or alcohol use.

“The board policy specifically dictates the sanctions for the behavior,” she said. “The student assistance counselor and the school counselor’s roles are to assist the student and family with finding the appropriate intervention and treatment. Intervention and treatment referrals are unique to each individual case, but may include in-school counseling, recommendation to attend a 12-step program, referral for a drug/alcohol assessment, outpatient treatment or inpatient treatment programs.”

Any student returning to school after a treatment program is fully supported, along with his/her family, to stay clean and sober, she said.

She said that in addition to the specialized Student Assistance Counselors, there are fifteen full-time school counselors employed by the district, seven of whom are located at the high school.

“These counselors provide assistance to promote social and emotional health, provide academic advisement and college and career planning through a variety of means,” she said. “We promote the school counseling program through regular newsletters and the district website.”

She said that more recently, the counseling department took on a campaign to “bring resources to students”, where we made sure that our website had a community resource list available “within two clicks.”

“We have a helpline and community agency information listed in every classroom in the high school,” she said. “The counselors also disseminate information about community resources during Back to School Night, Parent-Teacher Conferences, and the district’s annual curriculum fair.”

She said that the counseling department also has arranged for parent information nights about drug/alcohol prevention in their community, most recently presenting at the parent portion of freshman orientation.

“Our counselors maintain strong community partnerships with a variety of outside agencies, including, but not limited to, the Mercer County Prevention Coalition, the Traumatic Loss Coalition, Capital County Children’s Collaborative, and RISE,” she said.

She said that one of their more recent initiatives they are proud of is their Senior Transition Program, which consists of several activities delivered to their graduating seniors, designed to help them through the end of their senior year and transition into post-secondary life.

“The transition activities are primarily focused on teaching students about the community resources, including knowing where to turn for help whether they go away to college or stay in our local community,” she said.

We also focus on de-stigmatizing the need to seek assistance after graduation, she said.

“These transition activities happen in class meetings run by the principal, assembly programs with outside speakers, in classroom guidance meetings and in small group counseling sessions,” she said.

Principal Vinson said the staff and administration at Hightstown High School remain steadfast in their commitment to providing drug and alcohol prevention education, intervention when necessary and the support to proceed with treatment when required.

“We also consider our students to always be ours and remind them that even after they graduate, we will always be here for support and assistance,” he said.

Board Member Lilia Gobaira said eight years ago there was an epidemic of heroin at the high school.

“It has decreased,” she said. “Whatever they are doing here in the district it is working.”

An alumni student who graduated three years ago and who wished to remain anonymous said in HHS the only drug she knew that was going around was pot but everyone and their mother smokes pot these days.

“Although I have no opinion on pot and whether it should be legal or is bad or whatever, I will say it’s the least dangerous drug someone can get into compared to the other crap out there,” she said.

A student who is a junior at the high school who wished to remain anonymous said there is no real drug problem at the high school.

He also agreed that the most popular drug is marijuana.

“Not everyone is doing that,” he said. “As for more serious drugs, there is no real issue. There are little to no occurrences of teens abusing serious or hardcore drugs at HHS. I do think that teens need more education when it comes to drug use and underage drinking.

“As teenagers, many feel that they know more than they actually do, which leads to them not making the best decisions,” he said. “A lot of teens do not come forward if they have an issue with substance abuse because of fear of authority and consequences.”

He said while underage drinking is more of an issue than drug use at HHS, both should be discussed within the student body.

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