On the day before he succumbed to his final heroin overdose, Kevin Glenz was in a hospital in Iowa, recovering from his penultimate one. On the phone, he told his father, Larry, “Dad, you can’t possibly think that I would want to be like this. Believe me, no one would ever choose to be like this.”
“Our last words to each other were ‘I love you,’” Larry Glenz told a crowd of nearly 200 in South Side High School’s auditorium on Nov. 28. Though they included middle and high school students as well as parents and teachers, the room was silent, except for the sniffles of a few who were in tears.
Glenz, a former teacher and coach at Lynbrook High School and the author of “Forgiving Kevin: A Son’s Addiction Becomes a Father’s Greatest Teacher,” recounted the trajectory of his son’s life from good-natured, well-liked “all-American boy” from Lynbrook to street thug who mugged people for money to buy drugs.
Kevin was a charismatic athlete at Lynbrook High who later played lacrosse at the University of Massachusetts, where he began abusing opiates. After seven years of cycling between rehab and relapses, he died in 2010 at age 27, just months after his daughter, Olivia, was born.
The event was organized by the Rockville Centre Coalition for Youth, which comprises 21 community groups, including the schools, the Police Department, and religious and civic organizations.
For school communities in Rockville Centre and beyond, the issue of opioid addiction is a familiar one. “We’ve lost six former students in the last 16 years,” Noreen Leahy, assistant superintendent for pupil personnel services and special education, told the audience before introducing Glenz. “They walked our halls, ate with us in the cafeteria, played on our sports teams, sat in our classrooms.”
The best way for parents and educators to fight the opioid epidemic, Leahy said, is to “arm ourselves, and our kids, with knowledge,” and to keep the lines of communication open between children and adults.
During the question-and-answer period that followed the presentation, Glenz suggested that parents keep a closer watch on their children than he had with his son, who, he found out years later, had smoked marijuana every day in high school.
Anthony Rizzuto, a substance abuse counselor and the founder of Families in Support of Treatment, challenged that idea, saying that adolescence is often a time of resistance and rebellion, and that parents can risk closing the lines of communication if their children find them too overbearing. Glenz stressed that when parents talk with their children about the use of controlled substances, they should take into account that things have changed since they were teens. “There’s always been this sense that, yeah, teenagers like to get high,” Glenz said, “but it’s never been as dangerous as it is today.”
Freshman Grace Senken, a member of Students Against Destructive Decisions, said that Glenz’s presentation, and others like it that she’s seen through the club, have made the danger abundantly clear. “It makes you realize that it could happen to anyone,” she said, adding that the school makes a point of addressing the issue whenever an overdose death hits close to home.
“This is not about a single answer to a very complicated problem,” said John Murphy, South Side High’s principal. “That would be oversimplifying it.” According to Murphy, the district’s substance abuse curriculum is constantly evolving, and now includes “mindfulness” and stress management as well as workshops on healthy relationships of all kinds. The administration focuses on the curriculum because, Murphy said, “I fear we’re dealing with an adversary that’s equally adept at transforming based on the circumstances.”
In addition to stories like Glenz’s, that ended tragically, the school brings in speakers who talk about their experiences going through high school and college completely sober, and the pressures and challenges they faced, to give students a model for how to abstain.
This week, for example, was dubbed Inclusive Schools Week, and the aim was to promote a comfortable and supportive environment for students who feel marginalized for reasons including gender identity, socio-economic status, race and disability. Marginalization, and the social isolation that comes with it, Murphy said, are often an underlying cause of substance abuse.
“The difference in our approach here is that there’s an emotional and a realistic and practical component,” Murphy said. “We’ve educated our way out of certain problems before, but this disease is different.”