Reading, Writing, and Rehab
Smoking pot is so common at Northshore that Lipinski says “students really do perceive of marijuana as legal.” And like its students, the school treats the drug as different from others, essentially handling it the way the state does — as a misdemeanor. But its ubiquity seems to confuse students about just what being clean means. One young woman who smokes marijuana every day tells the group that she likes to think she’s in control of her daily pot use, but knows that she’s not.
As the meeting continues, a guy tells everyone that his plan to have one or two beers the night he got out of rehab ended with him drinking so much that he burned a hole in his pants with a cigarette. “There’s no way I can have [only] a couple,” he says.
“You’re not alone,” says another classmate. “Everybody wants to be a normal teenager. You know what I mean?”
Lipinski nods from the corner, beaming with pride. “That’s fellowship,” she says. “And that’s where the strength comes.”
At William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston, however, the strength comes from fellowship of a different kind. During the second week of school, principal Roger Oser waits outside as students arrive for the day. The school is housed on the third and fourth floors of the Action for Boston Community Development building in Downtown Crossing, and on the sidewalk outside it’s not unusual to see business people in suits walking past actors in Colonial-era dress taking breaks from reenactments on the Common.
Oser stands with his hands in his pockets and greets each student by name.
“Hey,” one kid says to his friend as he arrives, stopping to smoke a cigarette. “You got a lighter?”
“We don’t say, ‘Good morning’ at Ostiguy,” Oser says. “We say, ‘Got a lighter?’”
The student smiles as his friend tosses him a lighter. “Good morning,” he says.
Oser, 42, is short, with a boyish face, an easy smile, and a wide girth. He’s wearing a shirt and tie, and his cropped gray hair is about the only part of him that recalls the years he spent in the Navy. Before Ostiguy, he worked as a teacher with the Department of Youth Services and then as an administrator in other settings for at-risk youth. He’s playful — the students affectionately call him “Rog” — but also stern. His staffers stress civility, respect, and order: no cursing in school, no revealing clothing, no hats, no phones, no headphones. Those with negative attitudes are evaluated daily to determine whether they’re exhibiting the school’s “five P’s”: prepared, positive, productive, polite, and personally responsible. If their attitudes don’t improve, they can be suspended. “I hate the concept that a kid’s going to come to Ostiguy and we’re going to ‘save’ that kid,” says Oser. “It’s not a treatment program. It’s not a daycare program. We’re a school. They’re here to learn.”