Thunder Bay

'We're going to continue to move forward': Dryden High School grapples with drugs, alcohol

The principal of Dryden High School says he and the staff will continue pushing forward as they work to address, what they call, a drug-use problem in the school.
Staff at Dryden High School are working with groups in the community as they try to address a reported drug problems among students. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

The principal of Dryden High School says he and the staff will continue pushing forward as they work to address what they're calling a drug-use problem in the school.

"We've noticed through our data, and our suspension rate, that we're dealing more and more with substances, including alcohol and drugs, at Dryden High School," said principal Richard Hodgkinson.

"We want to make sure that we're not going to hide from challenges, we're going to face challenges," he said. "We're wanting to take actions to help rectify that and make Dryden High School a safe learning environment."

A 'microcosm'

Only alcohol and marijuana have actually been found so far in the school. However, Hodgkinson said there are concerns other drugs, including cocaine and methamphetamines, are also present, due to their prevalence in Dryden.

"Any schools are a microcosm of the surrounding area and the community they're in," he said. "So as certain things increase or decrease within the Dryden area ... Dryden High School is affected by that, as well."

He said staff are spending more and more time dealing with drug and alcohol-related issues, and because of that, "they're not spending the time helping students that are in risk, that are struggling academically, struggling with emotional or social ... issues."

Hodgkinson said truly addressing the problem will need to involve the community as a whole. The school is working with outside groups — including the Dryden Police Service, Dryden Regional Health Centre, and Northwestern Health Unit — to support students both in the school, and in the community.

Addiction, mental health supports

The Dryden Area Committee of Safety and Well-Being, Hodgkinson said, has developed a plan that includes the creation of a youth centre in Dryden, as well as a youth hub.

The hub, Hodgkinson said, would include mental health and addiction supports.

"We need things for youth to do in the evenings and on weekends," he said. "I'm concerned not just about the time in school, I can control that. I'm really concerned about the time when students are outside the school."

"I'm concerned about that, and having activities, positive activities, to replace anything that's negative because they're bored, or they don't have anything to do, or they're vulnerable and following under the influence of the few that are taking advantage of them."

Inside the school, meanwhile, students are offered mental health and addictions counselling, Hodgkinson said, as well as supports for Indigenous students and their families.

"I'm a long-time resident here, I'm not going anywhere," said Hodgkinson, who was a student and teacher at Dryden High School prior to becoming principal.

"Dryden High School is pretty important to me," he said. "I'm just going to make a difference."