From the Vineyard Gazette editions of October, 1982:
A man named David Toma came to the Vineyard this week. He left the Island community talking, thinking about itself, about its problems, about the future. A former narcotics detective, Mr. Toma talked to teachers, students and parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He was at the high school Monday, and at the old Whaling Church Monday night. Mr. Toma tours the country giving such talks. They are impassioned, disarming. These reports are based on dozens of conversations with teachers, guidance counselors, administrators and students. The responses are emotional, thoughtful, sad, encouraging, varied. The reports represent an opportunity for those who see the problems daily to discuss them, for those who heard Mr. Toma to react.
“I thought Toma was great,” Laura, an intelligent and attractive senior says. “It was different from a scientist coming in and telling you statistics. He’s been through it. I just wish I had seen him when I was in fourth grade. Maybe things would be different. They should have him talk to fourth graders. That’s when I started smoking pot. If I had heard him, I probably would never have done it. I started to be cool, probably, then by sixth grade it was just habit. I started smoking marijuana with those who weren’t friends, really. Just people who hung out in the park. There was nothing to do, so we just go down there and smoke pot. The people I baby sat for had pot all over the house. I smoke just about every day. Whenever I get a chance,” she says.
“This Island gets to you sometimes,” another student says. “You get bored and just feel like getting high.” “My father is an alcoholic. My mother’s boyfriend is getting high all the time,” one girl says. “My mother drinks,” says a friend, the second in a group of four. “My mother loves me, but I used to get stoned out of school, in school any time. But it wasn’t because my mother didn’t love me,” a third student says. And from a fourth, “I did because it was fun. Go out with the guys and raise hell.” A David Toma, he says, can help to open lines of communication, but only so far. “If kids talked to kids, I think it would help. When you say to a friend, “Hey, don’t call me until you quit, if they really care enough about you, they’ll quit. Just tell them, ‘Hey, slow down.’ ” Each of the four say they are marijuana smokers who stopped.
Several of the students say appearances are deceiving. “There’s a lot of straight A, play sports types who are getting high, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s more a weekend thing,” one boy says. Most of the drinking and drug use occurs outside the high school, the students say, but it is not unheard of to witness it in the school. Laura says David Toma’s appearance will increase awareness, but only to a point. It apparently will take effort from everybody to get at the real problems.
“We’re very much aware of the ongoing drug and alcohol problem with youngsters today,” high school principal Gregory T. Scotten said “It’s part of the society, it’s part of the culture,” he said. “We have managed over the last several years to build up programs with guest speakers to sensitize the community and the kids to problems. From our perspective, Mr. Toma was another part of that program. We welcomed the fact that he was coming, we supported it. We knew he was prone to the kinds of inflammatory remarks that he makes, that it’s a cold slap in the face. We were very pleased with Monday’s presentation. The kids were glued, fascinated by what he had to say.
On Monday, Mr. Toma addressed over 700 students in the school gymnasium. In the evening, at the Old Whaling Church, Mr. Toma spoke to 600 community residents, saying 80 per cent of the students “are messed up.” He said a student told him the high school is “a meeting place to get high.”
“We understand from the nighttime performance that he made certain statements sound like statistics,” Mr. Scotten says, “We accept those figures given his definition of the drug problem, which is anybody who has ever used or experimented with drugs or alcohol. Our own information is that those people with severe problems are less than 10 per cent. But we don’t want the controversy over the statistics and the general statements about the school as a source where kids come to do drugs to cloud the issue of trying to educate a community about the problems of youngsters. Parents particularly have got to be more educated about their responsibilities to help the school and the kids.”
“Toma wants you to go beyond alcohol and drugs, and talk about human interaction, how people relate to one another.” says guidance counselor Joseph Didato. “The thing that’s going to scare people are the statements, ‘The school’s in a shambles.’ If a person just focuses on the word ‘shambles’ alone, it won’t go beyond the word and into the message. That’s what so valuable. You have to stand back a bit and reflect upon what he said. You can’t react immediately. To react to Toma immediately is probably to react to the wrong thing. You have to reflect upon it, and build up, ongoing, constantly.”
Compiled by Eulalie Regan