Thursday, December 18, 2008

Community Inquiry Project- The Poster

So one of the components of our community inquiry project is a poster presentation. Which is in about 4 hours actually. So while I was finishing up the paper I was thinking about and gathering materials for that.

I decided to divide my poster into three areas, left, center and right, and go with a different focus with each or them. In the center I had a copy of my paper abstract, a copy of the map from my walkthrough of Newark and a few graphs of information on substance use prevalence and the influence of risk and protective factors on substance use. So mostly pure information.

The right side I went with quotes from people I heard speak in AA meetings, along with a couple sets of song lyrics that have a lot of personal meaning to me with regards to substance use. I used multiple fonts and orientations when attaching them to mimic random conversation and make them seem more like they were coming from many different people. Which they do.

The left side I went with photos related to substance use. They start off at the top, well organized and depicting mostly "nice" casual scenes of substance use. As they descend down the poster the pictures get more serious. People passed out, police giving breathalyzers, addicts shooting up, etc. At the bottom is a body bag being led past a cop car (that pic is from Heath Ledger's OD, just to let you know). The pictures become progressively more skewed and chaotically arranged as you go down. My goal was to visually depict the continuum of substance use, starting with "normal" recreational use and proceeding through the descent addicts suffer, both in terms of visual consequences as well as the emotional and psychological consequences most people don't see.

At least that's what I was shooting for. I'll try to get a picture of it up later.

Inquiry Project Abstract

So after a later night than I would have preferred I've pretty much got my community inquiry project done. Personally I don't think it's anywhere near my best work, though my wife read it and said it was fine. I do still have to collate and type my references, but that's what work is for, right? So here is the abstract/summary of my project:

Adolescent alcohol and drug use are a major concern today. There are numerous negative consequences of substance use including medical and psychiatric disorders as well as social, economic, emotional and legal consequences. The duration and severity of these consequences is directly related to the age at which the substance use commences. In this paper, using a combination of literature review, information garnered through attending local meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and walkthroughs of urban communities in Newark, NJ, we examined the prevalence of substance use among urban adolescents as well as the consequences of substance use and the impact this use has upon adolescents. Additionally, the relationship between the urban environment and adolescent substance use was explored. We found that substance use and abuse is highly prevalent among adolescents, despite recent education efforts. In urban areas, protective factors that may act to ameliorate substance use appear to be outweighed by the risk factors found in these areas. We concluded that a better understanding of the effects these factors have upon substance use among urban adolescents in necessary in order for effective prevention of adolescent substance to be achieved.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Inquiry Project Methodology

So here is the methodology section of my Community Inquiry Project paper. I'm not super happy with it personally. I also haven't edited it yet. I'm used to writing similar stuff, but there are enough differences between what I think we're supposed to be doing with this and what I'm used to doing with my hardcore scientific papers that it's driving me nuts. Well, more nuts than usual. Anyways, here you go:

Literature Search and Online Statistics

The extensive reservoir of literature available in the field of substance use was searched using Google Scholar and the U.S. National library of Medicine. The focus of the literature search was on urban adolescent alcohol and drug use. More focused searches on education in this field and comparisons between urban, suburban and rural, substance use were also performed.
Online statistics relating to substance use were gathered primarily from U.S. Government Agencies specializing in health issues and are referenced as such. Additional statistics were gathered from similar State agencies.

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings
AA meetings were attended in and around the city of interest from 2/5/08 to 12/17/08. For the purposes of this paper, information from discussion and speaker meetings was used exclusively. Speaker meetings involved 1-3 AA members speaking before the group. Speakers generally talked about their experiences with alcohol and with the AA program. Discussion meetings involved members from the group sharing their opinions or experience on a topic or problem suggested by the group. Scope of topics was extremely broad.
In deference to the principles of anonymity subscribed to by AA, we did not take notes of any kind while the meeting was in progress. After the meeting ended, we recorded our impressions and thoughts on what had transpired.

Urban Neighborhood Walkthrough
In order to gather information on the prevalence of alcohol and drugs in urban communities we initiated a walkthrough of several neighborhoods in the city of interest. There were two primary criteria for selecting an area for the walkthrough. The first was the presence of public schools. The area examined contained four pubic schools, two High Schools and two Elementary Schools. The second was the presence of a mixture of residential and commercial areas within the area. The area examined was primarily residential, but contained three larger thoroughfares that were heavily commercial.
For the walkthrough itself we traveled the selected area on foot, following roads. All street areas were covered; however areas off the street were not seen in details. Additionally, we did not enter any businesses or residences in the examined area, but focused exclusively on exterior areas. Our primary purpose during the walkthrough was to examine and map the number of liquor stores, bars, clubs and other establishments that served alcohol. We also made a note of schools and other institutions that related to the topic area. Additionally, we made general notes and observations about the area during the walkthrough.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Walking Around Newark...

So for my Urban Education classes final community inquiry project, one of the things we needed to do was create our own map of Newark. Or a portion of Newark, at least. Mapping out locations that were relevant to our project topic. As I've mentioned previously, my topic is looking at adolescent alcohol and drug use. It's starting to look like it'll really focus on abuse, not use (Yes, there is a difference!), largely because I understand abuse, but I really can't wrap my head around the idea of casual alcohol and/or drug use.

So anyways, I decided to map the area near Barringer High School. My north border was Lake St., East border was 2nd Ave., South border was Broadway and West border was Park St. I actually think this area was smaller than what we were supposed to do (instructions was to do 10 square blocks, but blocks there aren't really square) but it was still an afternoon on foot with this stupid flu bug everyone has had, which was quite enough for me!

I picked this area because A) I knew where it was and where to park, B) Barringer is right next to the Cathedral, which made finding where I parked much easier (I'm geographically challenged, see my previous posts), C) I knew there was at least one High School in my area, D) the area was mostly residential, but contained a couple major commercial strips (Bloomfield Ave., Park St., Broadway).

I was mostly looking for liquor stores and bars, but I also noted schools (Barringer and Technology HS's and Ben Franklin and something-Brook Elementaries were in my area). There was also one obvious substance-abuse treatment center that I noted as well.

What did I find? Not nearly as many alcohol sources as I thought I'd find. Sadly my explicit notes are at home right now, but in the entire area there were less than a dozen liquor stores and bars. Maybe it was the area I was in, but my perception from driving through Newark was that there would be more than that. I will say that based on my personal experience the liquor stores were doing a lot of business for a Sunday afternoon. There was also one disturbing moment when I saw a kid (8-10 years old) walking down the street by himself away from a liquor store (I did *not* see him leave the store itself) carrying two opaque plastic bags that I'm certain contained booze.

Every school had a bar or liquor store within a 3 minute walk. Bar/club across from Barringer. Liquor store across from Tech. Liquor store around the corner from the elementary schools.

The other thing that *seriously* jumped out at me were the sheer volume of empty beer and liquor bottles scattered all over the place. Throughout my entire mapped area, I couldn't go 10 feet without seeing an empty alcoholic container of some kind. Actually, it was worse in the residential areas than on the commercial roads, some of the major roads (Bloomfield Ave., Broadway) were fairly clean. And these were fairly nice neighborhoods in my estimation. In hindsight I probably picked one of the more affluent areas of Newark to survey, or so it seems to me. The houses were nice and well-maintained. Vehicles were well cared for (several people were out front washing their cars in 40 degree weather) and quite a bit nicer than what I drive. Most of the neighborhoods I walked through were nicer than where I live, in my opinion. But there was a huge ammount of litter, and a big percentage of the litter were beer and liquor bottles. (Mostly Corona and Heineken, if anyone was wondering).

So right now I'm willing to speculate that alcohol use is highly prevalent in Newark, even if there weren't as many sources in my area as I expected. From a student perspective, most of these kids likely pass liquor stores or bars going to/from school, and are walking on sidewalks covered in empty beer and liquor bottles (plus the occasional dead cat, which made me sad). Based on my experience and the people I've talked with in Alcoholics Anonymous, that is definitely the kind of environment conducive to kids drinking or at least being willing totry drinking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Open School Board meetings...

So I went to the Newark Public Schools open board meeting last night. It was an intertesting experience. Getting there was half the battle. Okay, I don't live all that far from Newark, about 15 minutes or so (less than 10 miles) to the north, in Bloomfield. I think. I'm directionally challenged in this state (no mountains for me to judge which way is east or west). But I rarely drive anywhere. I work in NYC and take mass transit 90% of the time, and my wife typically drives the other 10%. I basically only drive to get to my AA meetings, and they are all within a two mile radius of my house. So I drive (with myself behind the wheel) outside my immediate area maybe 6-10 times a year.

I had mapquested how to get to the meeting at Shabazz HS and had directions. Of course I decided not to follow them exactly. I knew where Bloomfield Ave was and knew how to get there, and planned to follow the directions from that point. Well, the route I took didn't allow me to make a left onto Bloomfield. And I did a typical Dr. MS thing. I said, I don't need to turn around, I know how to get back to Bloomfield Ave from where I am.

When will I learn? And that was a rhetorical question!!!

Next thing I knew I was in East Orange. Oops! No problem, I can cut over and be where I should be. Five minutes later I didn't know which way was up or down, let alone N, S, E or W! I kept seeing roads that sounded familiar and following them. Then I was in South Orange. Huh!? Ooooh, that road sounds familiar. Wait, where the heck is Irvington and why am I there?

Finally I saw signs saying "This way to downtown Newark" and stopped panicking. Of course I didn't follow the signs totally. I saw a couple roads that sounded right and followed them. What!? I'm back in Irvington!? Dang it! But finally I got where I was going. The meeting started at 6. I left home at 5:30. I got there at 6:45. Luckily I found a couple of my classmates to sit with. What have we learned from this? Don't let Dr. MS drive anywhere. Ever.

But luckily I didn't miss much of the meeting. Approving the minutes and the beginning of some budgetary stuff. The part I caught was the most exciting thing I've seen since the Iowa professional grass-growing championships. But then they had public commentary, and that made the whole thing worthwhile.

First off, I love people who are passionate about education and what they believe in. And there were several speakers who were certainly passionate about what they were saying. But most of them were not particularly good at arguing their points. Passion is wonderful, but I believe a logical, well-reasoned argument will do you more good than yelling and rousing the crowd will.

Of course I don't really believe the speakers really accomplished anything. I got the distinct impression that the board members were humoring the speakers and couldn't wait for the public comments to be done. The way they seemed to rush through the list of speakers (calling a name, waiting 5 seconds, then saying they were absent) and the patronizing smirks on thier faces at times did not lead me to believe they were taking the speakers concerns seriously at all. There were exceptions to this, one or two board members made comments or asked questions, so at least they seemed to be listening.

The most useful thing for me at the board meeting was hearing, from the students, staff and parents who spoke, what their concerns were about Newark schools. Facilities issues were big. Leaky roofs, mold, mice/bugs, lack of restroom supplies (that was a frequent one) were all topics that were brought up. Several parents commented on how they didn't feel informed by the board on what was going on with their childrens schools. A few people commented on an apparently very unpopular change in the districts free meals program. I don't know the details but several people were very angry about it. And the board is apparently suspending the changed program on 12/1 until further review.. And one teacher commented, rather eloquently, on her belief that teacher evaluations were being used punitively to punish teachers who were speaking out about problems in the district.

Overall the meeting was a good experience for me. I think I learned a lot about the situation I'm going to be going into. I will probably try and attend more of the board meetings in the future.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spectacular Things, Part One...

For our Urban Education class we were assigned to Read the book Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way, by Brian Schultz. I admit, I actually read it two months ago. I got bored and my class books were sitting there so I pulled out the shortest one (Spectacular Things) to keep me occupied till dinnertime.

I ended up finishing it on the train the next morning. Then I reread it. Finished it the second time on the train ride home. I love this book. Seriously. I would have read it again, but I loaned it to a classmate and by the time I got it back I was swamped with work/school/life.

Anyways, Spectacular Things describes a year in the academic lives of Class 405. Class 405 is a class of 5th graders at Cabrini Green Elementary School in Chicago. Cabrini Green is not a good area. Cops are afraid to go there. Heck, pizza delivery guys are afraid to go there!

Into this environment steps the author, Brian Schultz. As the teacher of Class 405 he initially seems out of place. But he continually tries to relate to his students and hits the jackpot when he introduces them to Project Citizen ( While asking his students what sort of project they’d like to tackle for Project Citizen, the students of Class 405 overwhelmingly bring up the terrible conditions at their school.

Poor heating and cooling, disgusting bathrooms, cracked windows and a lack of basic facilities most schools take for granted, such as a cafeteria or auditorium, were just some of the problems the students brainstormed with their teacher. And then they set about doing something about it.

But enough of repeating the book. Reading the first few chapters really drove home how bad many students in America have it. Almost everything their school lacked, I took for granted in my schools. And I would be outraged if my son’s school was anything like the school in Cabrini Green. But while I could fairly easily move to a new district, this isn’t a viable option for the majority of residents near schools like Cabrini Green. They've learned to make do with what they have. But, to me, this just leads to a self-perpetuating cycle. They don't (can't) succeed. Why pour resources into a failing school? Next generation doesn't succeed. They struggle to provide the opportunities their kids need to succeed. Do you see where I'm going with this? And the sad thing is occasionally you'll get an exceptional kid who manages to "make it" despite the decjk stacked against him. And then the other kids community are told, "If he succeeded so should you. It's your own faults you're not."

Okay, I digressed. And I'm out of time. I'll try to come back to this later tonight...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Annotated bibliography

So, for our Community Inquiry Project for my urban education class, I decided to look at the prevalence of alcohol and drug use in Newark Public Schools. That topic will likely evolve somewhat as I do additional research into it. This post is an annotated bibliography of an article I found discussing adolescent alcohol use and violence.

Felson, Richard (2008, May) The Influence of Being under the Influence: Alcohol Effects on Adolescent Violence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 45(2), 119-141.

This article examines the relationship between intoxication, chronic alcohol use, and violent behavior in an attempt to determine if the link between adolescent violence and alcohol use is causal or spurious. The authors used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to base their conclusions on. There were three basic issues the authors focused on: First, how much of the relationship between frequent alcohol use and violence is due to the causal effects of intoxication, and how much is spurious? Second, whether intoxication has a greater effect on violence among adolescents who already have violent tendencies. And lastly, whether the effects of intoxication depend upon the adolescent’s sex and other social-demographic characteristics.
The authors conclude that the relationship between adolescent violence and alcohol use is mostly spurious, i.e. one does not lead to the other. Drinkers are actually more likely to engage in violence while sober than while drinking. Overall, people who drink are more likely to engage in violence, independent of whether they are drunk of sober at the time.
Additionally, the authors concluded that alcohol has a stronger effect on more violent-prone adolescents, potentially facilitating violent behavior among those who are already inclined to behave that way. The authors also allowed the possibility that alcohol could be used as an excuse for violent behavior.
On the third basic issue, the authors concluded that, in adolescents, there was no evidence that alcohol had a greater effect on boys than girls in relation to violence. They did, however, find both age- and race-related differences. Alcohol had greater effects on older adolescents versus younger, and on White adolescents versus black adolescents.
Overall, I found this to be an interesting article. I wasn’t particularly surprised by any of their findings, because they fit in well with my personal experience and observations. Personally, I believe that certain types of personality defects can manifest through both violent actions as well as self-medication through alcohol. The authors touched upon an overarching link between alcohol and violence, but they stopped short of hypothesizing anything specific.