Students at St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights didn't know what to think when the Catholic school made national headlines last August by announcing a plan to randomly test them and their classmates for alcohol use.
"At the beginning, it was a scary thing, especially for athletes," said Kaleigh McAndrews, 18, of Barrington, who graduated from the school in May. "Everybody was like, 'I can't believe they're doing this.'"
Now that the school year is over, school president the Rev. Corey Brost says he's pleased with the program's first year and plans to continue it in the years ahead.
"It quickly became accepted as part of what it means to come to St. Viator," Brost said. "Historically, we've had very small percentages of our kids testing positive for drugs."
However, some members of the recently-graduated senior class say the program could have been more effective.
St. Viator has tested its students for drugs during the first month of every school year since 2007, but alcohol testing was added at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Once a week during the year, a computer randomly selected a group of 10-20 students by ID number for testing. A sample of about 60 hairs was plucked off the heads of each student and sent to the Psychemedics Corp.'s lab in Los Angeles to determine wether the student had consumed alcohol within the past 90 days. Results came back to the school in five business days.
Students who test positive are required to pay for a second test 90 days later and undergo counseling. A second positive test can result in some sort of discipline, including possible expulsion.
Brost said there were students who tested positive on both the drug and alcohol tests, but those students make up less than 1 percent of the student body. He added that he was pleased with the school's approach to the testing, which he believes relieved students of the pressure to drink. But graduates like McAndrews and David Kellner said most seniors would agree the testing didn't necessarily prevent alcohol use.
"My impression as the year went on and on was that it didn't seem like it affected me as a senior," said Kellner, 18, of Elk Grove Village. "At first, it seemed like an active scare tactic, but as the year went on it became passive. It was in the back of our minds."
Kellner said the program meant well and was based on good principle, but it just wasn't the best way to prevent alcohol use.
McAndrews agreed, saying it wasn't as effective as the school's mandatory drug testing.
"I think it could have been a good way to prevent (alcohol use), but only if they actually tested everybody," McAndrews said.
Brost said the program is designed to provide help to students in the long run and entice discussion in the community. To that end, it was a success. Besides drawing national attention last summer and fall, Brost said leaders from other schools contacted him and visited Viator to learn more about the program.
"We are setting an example for the community on what healthy teenage life is all about," Brost said. "Too often drinking is looked at as a normal and appropriate right of passage, and that isn't true. We've sparked a conversation, and we will be continuing the same procedures in the fall."