CHATHAM, NJ - Chatham High has been ranked the No. 1 high school in the state since 2014, according to New Jersey Monthly Magazine's bi-yearly rankings.
While the academics are top-notch, the "Critical Issues in Student Wellness" report given on Monday during the district's open curriculum meeting painted a disturbing picture in relation to the mental health of Chatham students.
The power-point report made by Lisa Lattarulo, the student assistance counselor at the high school and Alex Emr, the student assistance counselor at the Chatham Middle School, pointed to concerns about Chatham students' mental health in relation to substance abuse, vaping, anxiety, suicide and more.
Speaking during the public portion of the meeting, Chatham High student Gavin Mayes, the senior class president, told how difficult it is to detect a student who is high because they are using so often that their behavior remains the same (see video below).
"I know that there are students at the high school who come to school high every day," Mayes said.
Lattarulo and Emr noted that mostly they are in "crisis" mode when it comes to students rather than intervention mode.
"All of it is increasing," Lattaruolo said. "Substance abuse is often a symptom of something else. Our data is showing an uptick and anecdotally we're seeing many more in crisis."
In a health survey given to students in December, 2016, 102 Chatham High students said that they had "seriously considered attempting suicide" in the past year. At CMS, the number was 50.
"If you look at the suicide risk assessments that are coming through our desks, the numbers don't match what the students are reporting at all," Emr. "We're missing this whole population of kids who are not identifying themselves as having a concern or not presenting themselves as kids who have concerns."
Lattarulo said that substance abuse is happening at younger and younger ages because of cell phones, which gives them access to people and things that they normally wouldn't come in contact with. She also mentioned LSD, cocaine and synthetic drugs that are used by some Chatham students.
Alex Emr talks about the stress level she has seen at the middle school.
Emr tells the story about a student telling her that she heard that she wouldn't have enough credits to graduate from high school if she wasn't accepted in all the honors classes.
Lattarulo explains how easy it is for minors to find marijuana and other drugs online in video below.
Lattarulo explains how marijuana is different from several decades ago, and how the THC levels are much higher today. "Kids may have a very strong reaction to this," she said.
"All school districts are dealing with vaping," Lattarulo said. "It's a problem. This is a new trend and unfortunately, it goes undetected."