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Thinking About Second Chance

In the Arlington County High Schools, it seems like almost everyone has been or knows someone who has had to go through the Second Chance program. For those of you who are not familiar with the program, it is a free, three-day early intervention program for students who have been caught using illegal substances (i.e. alcohol, marijuana). The program works to help students review their behavior, their relationships, and their knowledge and identify the reasons that led them to use prohibited substances. Teens have an opportunity to look at healthier choices that give them a Second Chance to avoid school suspensions or involvement in the juvenile-justice system. The program includes a mandatory component for parents that helps improve communication and teaches what to watch for to help their kids avoid risky choices. Because you only get one second chance, the first time a student attends the program they avoid criminal prosecution and suspension from school, but the second time they are caught they can go to the program but are not eligible for a diversion from prosecution or suspension.

Overall, the program seems like a great way for “first time offenders” to learn their lesson and not be penalized to the point that important parts of their future like college or getting a job would be at risk. But, when looking closer, how effective really is Second Chance?

Because the program is relatively new, there are no statistics to prove the success (or lack there of) of Second Chance. But, as a high school student who has not been to Second Chance but has seen numerous people have to go through the program, I have some opinions of my own. For a few students, the program has seemed to be successful. They went through the program and it appears they’ve learned their lesson as not only are they not ever caught with illegal substances, but they do not go anywhere where they know they are present. However, the larger population of students that go through Second Chance do not seem to have this mindset. The majority of people I know, at least, go back to drinking and/or smoking with friends, not thinking of previous or possibly future consequences. Some of these students even get caught again and are then subject to legal punishment and/or suspension. This begs the question of how the program can be improved to better teach teens the destructive risks of these dangerous substances so that Second Chance is the last chance they need.

Another thing that is often debated regarding the Second Chance program is its time. The program takes up three days during the week and students go during the exact hours that they would go to school (8:19-3:01). This adds up to three days of approximately 7 hours each, with a total of around 21 hours. Because the program is mandatory, students attending the program get an excused absence from school, thus allowing them to simply tell teachers they are “sick”, thus allowing them to get extra time on assignments. This begs many questions. Should the absence say something like “school related” instead of simply excused, so the teachers know these students are not “sick”, but they don’t have enough information to know they are at a program for substance abuse? Or, should the program be held for two 11 hour sessions on a weekend, or something similar?

I am an intern at the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth, and Families, and although we do not work directly with the Second Chance program, the Partnership works hard to prevent teens from drinking or using drugs. Therefore, my coworkers and I have had a few conversations about the program and have thrown out various ideas on how to possibly improve it. However, we have also praised the program for the benefits it gives to teens. Not only does it seem to teach some very valuable lessons and skills, but it also prevents students from possibly being rejected from college just because of one mistake during high school. As mentioned previously the program is relatively new, and will certainly grow and get even better.

So, what are your thoughts about the program?

Posted: Jul 16, 2013 by Rachel Robertson

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