Voorheesville works to end risk behavior in teens

VOORHEESVILLE — To someone in his teens or early twenties, what seemed like a great idea a few hours ago could suddenly appear dangerous and irresponsible. This is because the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain associated with goals, impulses, and judgment — doesn’t fully develop until about age 25.
In the meantime, Voorheesville is trying to keep those bad choices from happening by stepping up its Risk Behavior Task Force at the school and turning it into the Voorheesville Community Alliance for Healthy Choices.

The task force was started by the board of education in 2008 as a response to concerns about students’ risky behaviors after school.

“We wanted to address it and not pretend it’s not happening in Voorheesville,” said Superintendent Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder.

In 2009, the district administered a version of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Voorheesville altered the survey to fit its needs, but it still asked a wide range of questions, from those about experimentation with alcohol and drugs, to whether kids wore seatbelts in the car or helmets while riding a bike.

Thayer Snyder said the results of that and other anonymous surveys could not be released because parents were told they were for school use only.

The survey was re-administered in 2013 because the task force wanted to evaluate its progress, said Joseph Sapienza, director of athletics and dean of students. Sapienza describes himself as the facilitator of the Community Alliance.

“Ultimately, we felt like the risk behaviors we were concerned with five years ago we are still concerned about,” he said.

On Monday evening, the alliance met in the library at Clayton A. Bouton High School. Community members, students, parents, principals, members of the board of education, and a member of the Albany County Sheriff’s department discussed formalizing the alliance through bylaws and leadership positions.

Sapienza was quickly decided on as chairman of the group.

“This is something that could be around long-term,” Sapienza said of the alliance.

He said the goals of the group balance between letting community members know that kids are engaging in risk behaviors, and also providing those kids with alternatives.

Currently, the community alliance is working on a schedule of summer programs and activities, starting with a kick-off program on June 24. Following the kick-off, there will be soccer clinics and other summer activities still being planned by the alliance.

Many kids in Voorheesville have free time and disposable income, said Thayer Snyder, and the alliance is working to make sure they are aware of alternative activities.

While looking through old archives in the superintendent’s office, a letter was found discussing that risk behaviors and experimentation with drugs and alcohol aren’t just happening elsewhere — they’re happening in Voorheesville, too.

The letter was from 1995.

Today, the same concern continues to persist.

“Children may belong to a family, but they also belong to a community,” Thayer Snyder said, discussing where the responsibility for monitoring and deterring kids from engaging in risky activities lies.

“We have to be their pre-frontal cortex,” she said.

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Upcoming meetings dates for the VCAHC can be found on the SNN. For more information, contact Joseph Sapienza at 765-3314 ext. 208 or jsapienza@voorheesville.org.

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