Project SUCCESS: A New Approach to Substance Abuse Education and Intervention
Sitting in his office at Pawling Middle School, Raymond Drogan is a calming presence. He speaks softly as he sifts through a folder of organized educational materials, stopping to pull out a booklet entitled “Too Good for Drugs and Violence.”
“This is a guide that I use, but I also like students to facilitate their own experience and make it theirs,” he says with a smile.
Drogan is Pawling Central School District’s new Student Assistance Counselor. He supports Pawling students by providing substance abuse prevention counseling and education. Brought to the district by a grant from the Council on Addiction Prevention and Education of Dutchess County, Inc. (CAPE), he is part of a comprehensive substance abuse prevention and intervention program entitled Project SUCCESS (Schools Using Coordinated Community Efforts to Strengthen Students) that will run through the 2023-24 school year in both the middle and high schools.
The district partnered with CAPE to bring in Project SUCCESS after noting an increase in vaping activity within the school buildings. The district has increased consequences for students caught vaping in school, with penalties ranging from a phone call home and a week of detention upon first offense to suspension for more than three violations.
However, high school Principal Helen Callan said the district is committed to providing a multifaceted approach to supporting students who may be struggling with substance use. With a blend of individual and group counseling, education and family communication programs, Project SUCCESS fits the bill.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with CAPE to promote healthy choices in our students,” she said. “Like all schools across the nation, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who choose to vape and we’re committed to redirecting and supporting them.”
“Although vaping is a focus, Raymond is also a valuable resource to students and families regarding stimulants, opioids and other substance use,” added high school Assistant Principal Ean Titus.
Drogan, who holds a master’s degree in social work, has hit the ground running. He has built relationships with students during counseling sessions, been in touch with families and worked with counselors and teachers to present joint education programs centered on healthy choices.
He sees his role in the schools as a vastly different type of substance use education than he experienced as a child.
“There were barely any resources for substance use counseling when I was in school and prevention efforts weren’t really getting anywhere at the time,” Drogan said, “It’s great to see social workers, psychologists and counselors in the schools now – it’s a totally different landscape.”
Drogan is currently stationed at the district two days a week: one day at the middle school and the other at the high school. Middle school principal Megan Gleason says that his presence has enhanced the way the school works with students and families on substance use and prevention.
One of Drogan’s favorite aspects of his role is that he’s able to offer a student-led approach to substance use education and a more personalized experience to those who seek counseling and support.
“The difference between older drug prevention programs and this is that I’m not here to lead,” he said. “I’m here to have a presence and throw the students ideas that they can run with.”
“Having a counselor in the school opens different lines of communication and I’m really happy to be providing that.”