The text alerts come from the hallways, the bathrooms and even inside classrooms direct to the principal and school resource officer’s cellphones.
If one of them is available, they rush to the site of the alert, sent from a sensor designed to detect when someone is using an e-cigarette or vaping pen.
Sometimes it’s a false alarm. Most of the time, they are too late to catch the culprit, if they even have someone available to check.
“There are so many sensors going off and limited resources,” Revere Superintendent Matt Montgomery said.
But the technology seems to be working. Even with increased detection capabilities, installed at the beginning of this academic year, the school is on track to cut vaping-related suspensions in half this year.
At the same time, “it’s just a deterrent,” Montgomery said, “It’s not eradicating vaping.”
Schools across the nation are struggling to curtail an epidemic of teens using electronic cigarettes, using a range of tactics that include punishments, interventions and raising awareness.
A group of students and administrators weighed in on the issue Thursday at the University of Akron during an event hosted by the Akron chapter of the American Heart Association.
Jenny Peshina, executive director of the association’s Akron office, said the rapid growth of vaping has led to the need for both legislative and local responses.
“We understand this is a significant problem,” she said.
The students provided a behind-the-scenes look at how teens get their hands on the products, including knowing of stores that are willing to sell to those underage, and the pressures that drive them to vaping in the first place.
They shared their perspective on what would help and what might not, with some solutions possibly having both positive and negative effects. Raising the age to buy vaping products, for example, puts them further out of reach, but also makes them more illicit and thus enticing, several students said.
“A lot of times, a solution can be economic,” Firestone high school junior Luke Buckingham said. If the products are too expensive for students, he said, they may be forced to abstain.
He also cited the short amount of time vaping has been around as a reason students may not be aware of the possible long-term effects. He remembered his own elementary school lessons that included visuals of a healthy lung next to a black one belonging to a smoker.
“We didn’t get the vaping talk,” Buckingham said.
Several students mentioned mental health as a driver for students to start vaping, using it as a way to relieve stress.
“I know they turn to that because they feel like that’s the only outlet they have,” Revere sophomore Max Crisalli said. Teaching kids better coping mechanisms could go a long way, he said.
Classmate Alexis Zapisek said teens also see their idols using the products on social media and want to emulate them.
Bonnie Simonelli, Revere’s coordinator for at-risk students, said marketing and the perception that vaping is healthier than traditional cigarette smoking has driven even adults to take up the habit.
She now coordinates Revere’s efforts to educate students as young as fifth-graders on the dangers of all nicotine use, including vaping. Additional danger lies in illegal offshoots of vaping products, Simonelli said.
One of her students recently experimented with a vaping pen laced with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The product contained shards of glass, which she inhaled into her lungs. She spent three days in the hospital.
Simonelli caught the same student again using a nicotine vaping pen. She asked the student why she hadn’t quit after what she had endured.
“She’s like, ‘I’m addicted,’” Simonelli said.
For anyone caught vaping at Revere, the choice is a three-day out-of-school suspension or a one-day suspension if they agree to go through an education course through the American Lung Association on the dangers of vaping.
Last year, 42 students served suspensions for vaping. So far this year, 10 have been caught, with three electing to go through the program.
But the students also admitted their peers are getting better at sneaking a puff, from blowing the smoke into their shirts to using a device that is disguised as a pen or a USB drive.
Peshina, the heart association director, noted how much has changed since most of today’s adults were in high school.
“We used to get caught chewing gum,” she said.
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.