"Hidden in Plain Sight" presentation to be held at OCHS

There will be two "Hidden in Plain Sight" presentations, one on Monday, Oct. 28, at Orange County High School (shown here) and the other on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at Locust Grove Middle School. Both will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a complimentary dinner followed by the presentation at 6:30 p.m. 

The Orange County Public Schools and the Orange County Office on Youth are inviting parents to attend a program by the Culpeper Police Department called “Hidden in Plain Sight.” The interactive presentation is designed to raise awareness of the ways young people use everyday objects to hide drug paraphernalia from their families.

The presentation will give parents and guardians the opportunity to explore a staged bedroom, set up to look like a typical teenager’s room, and see if they can guess which innocent-looking objects or articles of clothing conceal a child’s use of drugs, alcohol or vaping products.

There will be two sessions, one on Monday, Oct. 28, at Orange County High School and the other on Tuesday, Oct. 29, at Locust Grove Middle School. Both will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a complimentary dinner followed by the presentation at 6:30 p.m. Free, on-site childcare will be available. Children are not allowed to attend the presentations.

Ashley N. Jacobs, grant program coordinator for the Orange County Office on Youth, said her office learned about the program after hearing it was being offered in nearby communities. She said she and her colleagues felt certain the presentation would be valuable to Orange County families.

School administrators heard about the program around the same time, so the two decided a “partnership for our community would be the best approach to offer this eye-opening experience locally,” Jacobs explained.

 “This program will help parents learn of activity that may be happening right before their eyes but might be ‘hidden in plain sight’ because parents do not have the knowledge base to know what to look for,” she said. “Whether your children are teenagers now or will be teenagers in the future, this program will be beneficial.”

Assistant Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools Bill Berry also is encouraging parents to attend one of the sessions and talk with their children about the hazards of risky and illegal activities.

“This program will provide valuable information to parents on drug and alcohol use awareness. It also will provide important statistical information related to drug, alcohol and tobacco use,” he said.

Asked at what age children should begin hearing from their parents about the dangers of drugs, Berry responded, “Sadly, in today’s society, it can never be too early to have age-appropriate conversations [about drug use and other forms of risk-taking] with our children. These conversations should be ongoing, and children need to feel comfortable coming to adults with questions or to present concerns.”

He said Orange County students learn about the risks of alcohol and drug use in fifth grade as part of the school resource officer’s educational program, and health classes offered from sixth through 12th grades also cover the subject. Occasional school-wide assemblies on drugs and related topics also are held, he added.

“Hidden in Plain Sight” will be presented by Master Police Officer Michael Grant and Lt. Ashley Banks of the Culpeper Police Department. Grant said the program began when Culpeper’s police chief learned about the success of a similar program being offered by the police department in Copley, Ohio. Culpeper officers went to Ohio to learn about the program and then added several topics of their own to the presentations they have been giving across Virginia for the past two years.

The simulated bedroom features a bed, night stand, desk and other furnishings. The police officers then add items that have a secret purpose most people would never figure out on their own.

Before the formal part of the presentation, parents and guardians have a chance to wander around the staged room and look for clues of drug and alcohol use. Grant said a drink can, for instance, might have a secret compartment where drugs could be stored.

The hidden use of a couple of the items might be obvious, but Grant said many are nearly impossible to guess.

“We have not done a presentation yet that we haven’t gotten a lot of oohs and ahs” from the audience, he noted.

Grant said the deceptive objects are easily purchased online and at some gift shops. He said that an old-fashioned equivalent would be an alcohol flask made to look like a pair of binoculars, the sort of thing easily carried into ballgames.

In addition to drugs, alcohol, traditional tobacco products and vaping, “Hidden in Plain Sight” will cover risky activities that teenagers might attempt to emulate after viewing them on the internet.

As an example, Grant said a young man in Georgia died after attempting to replicate a YouTube video showing Kobe Bryant jumping over a car (an Aston Martin, to be precise). The video was pieced together, “Hollywood style,” Grant said, and parents would do well to talk to their children about the fakery of such performances and the dangers of attempting stunts that put their lives at risk. 

Grant said he helped lead 17 “Hidden in Plain” presentations last year, and he and Banks have given 25 presentations so far this year. They also have taught law enforcement officers in Fauquier, Goochland and Madison counties and Warrenton how to lead the program.

Grant said the presentations have proven successful. He cited a phone call from a parent who attended a session and found one of the suspect items in a child’s bedroom: “Now the child’s getting counseling.”

In Grant’s view, the purpose of “Hidden in Plain Sight” is to get parents and children talking openly with each other.

“Each parent knows their own children. If you see something that you think isn’t quite right, that’s how you start the conversation with your child.”

Parents and guardians planning to attend the “Hidden in Plain Sight” dinner and presentation are asked to RSVP by Friday, Oct.18. Contact the Orange County Office on Youth at 672-5484, ext. 1, email Ashley Jacobs at ajacobs@orangecountyva.gov, or RSVP directly at http://tinyurl.com/InPlainSightOCPS.

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Hilary Holladay covers education and politics for the Orange County Review. The author of five books, she is currently writing a biography of the poet Adrienne Rich.

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