Freedom from Chemical Dependency Visits Hockaday

Seventh- through twelfth-graders participated in a week-long program in an effort to spark conversations about drug and alcohol addiction

A DEADLY POTION Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America followed by cancer and alcohol which is the most widely-used drug in America. It accounts for over 100,000 deaths per year in this country alone. It is also the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.

Tentative discussions about providing additional substance and drug education for students first surfaced among administrators last fall.

We wanted to broaden [the current health curriculum] and have a consistent experience each year for the girls across grade levels,” Head of Upper School John Ashton said.

Ashton and Eugene McDermott Headmistress Kim Wargo partnered with Freedom from Chemical Dependency Educational Services, a program dedicated to providing information for students to make healthy choices about drug and alcohol consumption, after reflecting on their experiences with the organization at St. Mark’s and the Louis McGee School in New Orleans, respectively.

They, along with other administration members such as Head of Middle School Linda Kramer, arranged a one-week FCD visit to Hockaday. Students in the seventh, ninth and eleventh grades were required to attend two 80-minute sessions. Those in eighth, tenth and twelfth attended a single 40-minute presentation. Additionally, FCD offered informational programs to faculty and parents to create education for the whole community.

The sessions were research-based with a straightforward focus on how drugs affect connections with the world, performance at school, relationships with family and friends, the body, the brain and the inner self.


Even with this structured curriculum, FCD team members modified each discussion based on interactions with students during the sessions.

“When we get to a school and start to talk the students, we tailor what we take from the curriculum to suit the school and to suit what the students want to talk about,” Deidre Flynn, one FCD worker who visited Hockaday, said.

All FCD faculty members participate in intensive training and most have a background in education or health. Charlotte Kavanaugh, another FCD employee who came to Hockaday, earned a psychology degree before joining the FCD team.

In addition, all employees have recovered from some form of addiction. Their personal experiences add a unique dimension to the conversations, one that allows prevention specialists to, Kavanaugh said, “teach from the heart.”

“People learn through hearing stories,” Flynn added. “And, frankly, I feel that students hear better.”

Junior Raheela Ahsan affirmed that she was most interested in the personal anecdotes in the discussions.

When asked what the organization could do better for the next year, she joked, “add more horror stories.”

Eighth grader Emma suggested that FCD include more scientific information, and eighth grader Emma would have liked an activity to supplement the discussions.

Rather than a lecture on the consequences of drug and alcohol use, Flynn said she believes that sharing an instance of addiction will stick with students when they are confronted with an issue.

Ashton agreed that this method makes the most impact on students in the long-term.

“It’s one thing to have a conversation about alcohol and other drug use in a classroom setting,” Ashton said. “It’s another thing on a Friday night when you’re with a group of people and someone is tempting you to drink, to drive, to do something you don’t want to.”

FCD team member Stephanie Haynes said that the group attempts to approach this sensitive subject in a non-threatening, welcoming way. They also encourage those with questions to have an informal yet helpful conversation with the employees.

“It was really helpful because they weren’t telling you what to do,” eighth grader Molly said.

“Part of charm is that we leave,” Haynes said. “My only role, our only role, is to be the drug lady. We don’t tuck you in, and we don’t give you a grade. You don’t have to be embarrassed about what we think of you.”

FCD’s visit to Hockaday received mixed reactions from students. “They told us things we already knew,” senior Radhika said.

Junior Alexandra said that, while she believes the FCD members presented information with candidacy, the sessions did not have great impact.

“I don’t think anyone walked out and said, ‘I’m going to stop doing what I’m doing,’” she said.

But many people found that the sharing of personal experiences gave them a broader insight into drug and alcohol addiction.

“I had never met someone who had gone through all of that,” Siegel said.

Ashton said that the FCD visit was a component in fulfilling Hockaday’s mission to provide a beneficial health education for its students.

“One of our goals is that we help you girls develop into healthy women who will lead really meaningful lives once you leave here,” Ashton said. “Having education around this topic and discussing the challenges is an important conversation to be in.”

FCD and Hockaday administrators will consider student evaluations, adjust tactics and discussion topics and return again next year. Current students in the seventh grades and younger can expect to receive FCD’s full six years education program on addiction.