Fast Times at Westwind junior high

Any way you add it up, kids at one Valley middle school were dealing meth out of their backpacks

Still, the Pendergast program's supporters argue that the early stages of meth addiction are only evident to a very keen eye, and that most teachers or school resource officers don't spend a lot of time looking for it.

"It's not something a lot of school officials see," Richards says. "It takes a concerted effort to be attentive enough to identify kids on meth. Because sometimes, when they're first starting on it, they're the best, most attentive kids in class."

Newberg, a well-liked teacher with a hip Serj Tankian beard and a high radar for cues that he says should tell any teacher when a kid is on meth -- "Do they have facial tics? Lick their lips a lot? Are they always scratching at 'crank bugs'?" -- says most schools simply choose not to look too hard at the problem.

Middle-schoolers have enough on their plate without drug addiction and its associated problems.
Middle-schoolers have enough on their plate without drug addiction and its associated problems.
The Calderwood school staff includes (from left) teachers Mike Larson and Peter Newberg, office support staff Gina Holt and Jeri Ward, and administrator Amy Perhamus.
courtesy of Pendergast School District
The Calderwood school staff includes (from left) teachers Mike Larson and Peter Newberg, office support staff Gina Holt and Jeri Ward, and administrator Amy Perhamus.

Newberg even smells a cover-up.

"They don't want it to become a big deal," he says. "If you recognize it, then it's a problem you need to try and solve. If you don't recognize it, then your district's doing okay."

Newberg says he's visited other schools and is amazed how many red flags go unnoticed by those in charge.

"These kids have blatant gang-related stuff on their folders. Blatant gang-related stuff on their shirts and hats. And they walk to class like this. Because the teachers and principals don't want to make the connection. They'll say, 'We don't have a drug problem. We don't have a gang problem.' I wanna just tell them, 'That shirt right there? That kid's claiming hard-core. And he's walking right by your security officers, he's walking right by you. You just don't know it.'"

Newberg admits the problem in the Maryvale area is a bit more evident, but he feels that's only made him and Perhamus more attuned to an epidemic he's certain will eventually spread to every elementary school in town.

"We're really tuned in to it," he says. "We do watch the trends, we do pay attention to the articles. We listen to what the kids say and how they tell us about what's going on. And I think that a lot of people don't. They don't recognize it.

"But any time you ignore something, you're just an ostrich. And if you're gonna hide your head and say, 'Oh, that's not us,' or 'It's not that bad,' you're just promoting the problem. You're helping it continue. And you're still gonna get eaten by that lion, whether or not you hide your head in the sand."

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2 comments
Katie O.
Katie O.

I lived in that area for 18 years, before I moved away to college. I can tell you that 10 years ago, there were serious drug and gang related problems. It wasn't "just a little pot." It was a very scary place to grow up. I'm so glad to hear that someone who is in a position to do something is beginning to address the issue.

I have my own theories for why no one else seems to have identified the problem. VERY FEW of these drug addicts are going to tell a teacher or school counselor straight up that they are using these drugs. They aren't even going to hint at it. In fact, this student would avoid the school counselor at all costs for fear that they would get "caught." They hide it as much as they can. So the well-meaning cop posed as school counselor would never realize how bad the problem was.

The only way to get at an accurate figure is to talk to the students. When I went to Westwind, everyone knew who the gang-bangers were. Everyone. There was no question. But the teachers had absolutely no clue. The kid who punched the lunch lady? No, he was not in a gang. He was trying to gain acceptance by the gang, whose members are not nearly so stupid as to so openly declare themselves in such a manner.

karen moreno quintana
karen moreno quintana

hi my name is karen morneo, and i went to westwind during this insident happened. i was in the fifth or sixth grade. and i was using drugs at the time but thanks to amy perhamusus program. i no longer use no more so i love you ms perhamus and mr. Newberg

 
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