The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

The Student News Site of Shorewood High School

Shorewood Ripples

Restorative code of conduct change

American Heart Association helps SHS address vaping

During the latter end of last school year, Shorewood High School principal Tim Kenney partnered with the American Heart Association to alter the code of conduct surrounding vaping and other tobacco or nicotine products. Receiving a $4,000 grant in July, efforts to incorporate “Tobacco-Free School Policies” have begun.

Previously, if a student was found with possession of a nicotine vape device, they would be met with confiscation followed by meetings with faculty and family. If a student committed multiple offenses, they could face a fee from the Shorewood Police Department, suspension, or expulsion. 

“Our code of conduct was quite punitive when it came to addressing vaping,” Kenney said. “[This approach] seemed like it would cost you a lot of money and not change the behavior…and that seemed kinda pointless to me.”

Kenney worked with Zach Wilks-Metrou, Community Impact Director for the Wisconsin American Heart Association, to research and implement restorative practices to combat vaping. 

[Vaping is] an addiction and should be treated like one.

— Leila Rosenblatt, senior

“We want to make sure we are educating students and not just kicking them out of class or school,” Wilks-Metrou said. “We want to make sure students are staying in school, learning, and getting the education… that supports them through their cessation journey.”

In the updated code of conduct, subsequent offenses after the first two will no longer result in suspension or police contact. Instead, students may be placed in an online program (referred to as “alternative to suspension programs”) designed to help them overcome a nicotine addiction. Kenney believes that these programs will have more long term benefits to students. 

“They might not be excited about having to do an alternative to suspension programs in their free time… but when you think about how the consequences used to be very punitive, I’m hoping in the long run that they’ll feel a lot more supported,” Kenney said. 

According to a 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey, one in seven high schoolers reported that they vape frequently. 

“The tobacco industry has always targeted youth because that is their biggest market so they can get you to be long-term smokers and you’re caught for a lifetime,” Wilks-Metrou said. 

Leila Rosenblatt, senior, believes that the reality of nicotine addiction has been wrongfully assumed by adults, leading to wrongful treatment or conclusions for teenagers. 

“Kids who vape don’t really get treated like they’re addicted to a drug,” Rosenblatt said. “People usually get angry or think of them differently; it’s an addiction and should be treated as one.”

The Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in the 2017-18 school year showed that 30.4% of SHS had used vaping products within the last month, exceeding the state average of 11.6%. Although there is no more recent data specific to Shorewood, there has been a general uptick of vaping in young adults since the pandemic. According to the National Library of Medicine, 16.8% of young adults who vaped reported an increase in their vaping activity due to the pandemic. 

“I think it was exacerbated by the lockdown,” Kenney said. “We have seen a rise of it here at school in terms of code of conduct infractions, and it’s one of those things that is only going to continue to get worse unless we do something about it at the school level.”

Both Kenney and Wilks-Metrou agree that other than just health effects, consistent nicotine usage can impact attentiveness and stunt brain development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites that nicotine use during adolescence can significantly impact the prefrontal cortex, more specifically the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, impulse control and mood. Similarly, developing brains form synapses faster than fully developed brains, and nicotine has been found to cause changes in the way these synapses are formed.

“Attention span could be impacted, there is also anxiety,” Wilks-Metrou said. “Stress that can be associated with that, mental mood disorders or mood swings because nicotine…isn’t doing what students may think it’s doing for relieving stress.”

In addition to students’ developmental and physical health, nicotine can also negatively impact a school environment. This effect can impact not only the individual but other students and staff members as well.

[The previous] approach seemed like it would cost a lot of money and not change the behavior.

— Tim Kenney, principal

“Instruction continues in the classroom but if the student is constantly leaving to go to the bathroom, they’re causing themselves harm by missing instruction time,” Kenney said. “And then we have people vaping who’ve set off the fire alarms… that could have some serious consequences to it, because then you disrupted the entire school.”

Additionally, Rosenblatt believes that fully understanding the impacts of vaping may change future decisions. 

“Showing real experiences and actual examples of what happens in the future and how it doesn’t just affect your lungs; this is something that a lot of kids will care more about,” Rosenblatt said. “Nicotine [messes] with your entire system…it’s way more than just physical.”

Recently, on September 6, Kenney was asked to speak at an American Heart Association webinar about Shorewood’s progression and his thoughts on what he refers to as  “the vaping epidemic.”

Following the pandemic and being contacted by Wilks-Metrou, Kenney decided to amend the vaping code of conduct and add support in the form of an alternative to suspension program. While the specific course has yet to be selected, Shorewood is thought of as a leader from a national perspective on this issue.