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Prevention counselor offers oasis for students

Inside a dimly lit room in the counseling center at North Kitsap High School, a purple plasma globe buzzes next to a miniature japanese sand garden and a small statue of the Buddha’s likeness.

The sound of trickling fountain water fills the small room, where Nikki Fowler, the last full-time prevention counselor in the North Kitsap School District, sits at her desk.

“This place is a kind of an oasis for students,” Fowler says as she rubs the “magic ball” next to her. “Students can come in here mad as ever and their attitude will quickly change.”

Though she is employed by the Olympic Educational Service District, Fowler has worked within the North Kitsap district for three years and has become a part of the school community.

Her role as counselor has become increasingly important this year and North Kitsap Principal Kathy Prasch said she is glad to have her available for students.

This year the district administration has seen the highest amount of student substance abuse issues since Prasch became principal, she said. This includes two incidents of students being transported out of the stands at football games after over-consumption and a house party that ended in dozens of athletic suspensions for students on nearly every North Kitsap fall-season team.

“It’s a hit and miss kind of thing,” Fowler said of abuse issues at school. “Sometimes you’ve got something right out of the gate ... I think a lot of it comes down to what’s going on in society.”

Fowler said her goal is to catch students before they turn to substance abuse.

The suspensions at NK sparked a series of drug and alcohol training seminars called “Safe Talk.” The training sessions are for students and their parents to learn more about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and discover alternatives to substance abuse.

“She’s just invaluable to the district,” Prasch said. “This year we saw more drug and alcohol abuse than I have seen in all my years as principal.”

The prevention counselor’s position is “on call” outside of North Kitsap High, but for those students at other schools, she is a phone call away.

During the day, her room is seldom empty as students visit freely either by appointment, in between classes or before school, she said.

Fowler is also the advisor for Leaders in North Kitsap, the umbrella for the school’s prevention clubs SADD and Lifesavers.

The prevention clubs have seen significant growth in the past two years, with approximately 60 student members. Students such as LINK President Emilie Poffenroth do not want to see the programs disappear.

“It’s nice to show people what you can do instead of those things,” Poffenroth said of substance abuse.

As president, Poffenroth said just showing students what drugs and alcohol can do to them is enough to make a difference.

Recently, Fowler has also taken charge of the North Kitsap contributions to the North Kitsap Fishline program helping provide students in low-income families with school lunches.

But her role in the district is hanging by a thread as steady budget cuts threaten counseling positions. During last year’s budget cuts Fowler felt she was just on the cusp of losing her position at the school. People in the district, such as Prasch and Director of Secondary Education Aaron Leavell, helped guarantee her job for one more year, Fowler said.

Though the administration at NK does not have full autonomy in selecting what positions are eliminated at the school level, Prasch said she does have enough say in the matter to help keep Fowler’s position, but is uncertain of the future of the position.

The prevention counselor position is paid for by both the district and Olympic Educational district, but if the budget cuts dig too deep next year, Fowler’s position at the school is not guaranteed. If her position was cut, Prasch said it would be unlikely that the school could find a new advisor to take over all the activities Fowler has taken charge of.

“Every year I have to fight for my job,” Fowler said. “Naturally, as cuts are made to the budget, the services available are reduced; but the problems are still there.”

Safe Talks

Jan. 11 – “Cyber Talk:” Nikki Fowler and guests Rachel Clergy and Jodi Crawford will present information on cyber bullying, sexting and social networking. The training is for parents only.

Feb. 23 - “The Bong Biz:” Presented by Daniel Bissonnette will offer demonstrations for concerned adults with a focus on drug paraphernalia, methods of using drugs and the symptoms of drugs. The training is for parents only.

April 20 - “Talking Law with your teen”: Ryan Witt, an attorney, will discuss topics facing preteens and teenagers. He will cover everything from restrictions for student drivers to student dating.

All training sessions will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in the North Kitsap High School Commons

Admission is free. All students and parents of the North Kitsap School District are welcome.

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