More and more teens are coming to high school, NYC teacher says
Ever since Justin, a 15-year-old high school freshman, tried marijuana on his birthday two years ago, he’s smoked almost every day, several times a day, he said.
“If I smoke a blunt, I’m going to have chills after that blunt,” he said recently on a corner near his school, the Bronx Design and Construction Academy. “I’m not going to stress about anything.”
Another boy came over and flashed two glass tubes of smokeable flower. More students were smoking on a stoop and a door across the street. On the other corner, a smoking shop frequented by kids in backpacks and uniforms opened about half an hour before the first bell.
While smoking marijuana has long been common for some teens, teachers and students say more and more young students are smoking throughout the day and at school.
There is little definitive data on marijuana use among children, and the information that is available can sometimes present a contradictory picture. Disciplinary data from the city’s Department of Education shows a 10 percent increase in alcohol and drug-related offenses this year compared to 2019. , at the lowest level recorded since the question was added to the survey in 1997.
Still, two dozen students and teachers at public, private and charter schools across the city said in interviews that some classrooms were in disarray as more students showed up late and high.
He said that with the proliferation of unlicensed smoke shops and the availability of vape pens and edible products, cannabis has never been more accessible and obscure. When teachers turned their backs, they reported students taking vaping pen hits, bathrooms and stairwells becoming smoking lounges, and the smell of weed wafting from school hallways.
Teachers at the city’s high schools said it was rare to catch students smoking, noting the increasing ease, leaving making reports based on more opaque judgment calls of students’ smell and behavior.
“It really does feel like this unstoppable tide that we’re trying to quell,” said America Billy, 44, who has been teaching at a public high school in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, for more than a decade. She said it was difficult to know whether a student was lashing out because of lack of sleep, family stress or drugs.
In December, April McCoy, a former principal, described in a letter how student cannabis use had spiraled out of control during her two years in charge of the City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology in Brooklyn I went.
“It felt like more and more people were using without knowing the source, effects or consequences of early marijuana use,” Ms. McCoy said in the letter, adding that students who came back after the pandemic were “sad, Isolating and trying to find ways to cope.” ,
The newcomers were selling cannabis to each other, and she said she saw 14-year-olds smoking in one shop, accompanied by police officers nearby. On another occasion, she sent four students to the hospital because they became ill from eating contaminated food, she said.
Officials said the proliferation of unlicensed smoke shops, which the city says could number as many as 1,500, could be a factor driving marijuana use among children.
Gail Brewer, a city councilwoman, said that although she counted fewer than 10 of them in her district on Manhattan’s Upper West Side in September, there were 64 by March. Several school administrators have complained to him that merchants sell high-powered concentrates and vapes to students, along with joints and infused candies.
“We were all saying we need social workers, we need psychologists, we need mental health support in the schools,” she said. But dealing with smoke shops selling children was “not on the list.”
Mayor Eric Adams has vowed to crack down on unlicensed smoke shops, though he hasn’t taken sweeping action. In February, his administration filed nuisance-prevention lawsuits targeting a handful of stores where police said paramedics were able to buy marijuana. At the same time, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg sent letters threatening to evict the stores, but so far his office has not initiated any action.
In Albany, state lawmakers passed budget legislation in April that expanded the powers of state cannabis regulators and tax officials to shut down unlicensed shops and impose hefty fines for illegal sales. Mr. Adams’ office praised the measure, but urged the state to give the city additional enforcement powers to crack down on illegal smoke shops.
Jenna Lyall, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said the schools offer a variety of programs aimed at addressing and preventing substance abuse among students, including specialists who provide in-school counseling. But last year, there were just 280 specialists for the city’s 1,600 schools, Chalkbeat has reported.
Esther Lelivere, a cannabis activist who conducts educational workshops in schools and community centers, said many students who used cannabis said they had started using nicotine, a phenomenon that was on the rise before the pandemic. She said that some of the students she has worked with have obtained marijuana from smoke shops. Most of it came from friends who had access to cannabis at dealers or at home.
At the Bronx Documentary Center, a nonprofit photo gallery near Justin’s school, students in its journalism program set out to bring more awareness to cannabis use among children after seeing changes in their peers.
He mapped out all the smoke shops and schools in the neighborhood with push pins, and connected those closest to him with rubber bands. While showing the map during an evening class recently, 15-year-old Kara-Starr Tyner noted that one of the rubber bands didn’t stretch.
“How close it is,” she said.
One of the stores, Puff Puff Pass 1, was visible from the window of his workplace. One recent morning, The Times witnessed two teens in bags and uniforms shop at the store, then later enter a high school building. Two days later, a man who identified himself as the owner of the store, Mike Alramada, 35, said he did not sell tobacco or marijuana to students. As he spoke, he was interrupted by teenagers ringing the doorbell to let him inside his shop, which was also stocked with some drinks and other grocery items.
The journalism students said they were frustrated with their schools, their city, and adults running smoke shops, and they hoped that bringing attention to the issue would eventually spur officials to take action.
“I hope the adults realize they are not doing their job,” said Alexa Pacheco, who attends a Catholic school in the Bronx. “A teen shouldn’t be concerned about his friends using drugs.”
Lauren McCarthy contributed reporting.