Money talks to entice kids away from drugs: David Usborne in Anderson, Indiana, assesses a radical plan to keep schools free of narcotics

HEATHER admitted shyly that leaving her maths class to urinate into a plastic pot had been a little embarrassing. Jermaine shrugged, studied his feet and insisted the thing was no big deal. He 'never did any of that stuff anyway'.

Jermaine, powerfully built for a boy of 14 and a promising athlete, did not have to explain. The 'stuff' going around this school and thousands like it is illegal drugs, such as marijuana and crack-cocaine. Both he and Heather steer clear, however, and have no qualms about proving it.

Nor are they alone. Last week, 180 children aged between 12 and 14 - about one-third of the pupils at this school in Anderson, Indiana - formed a line outside the main boys' and girls' toilets to take part in an extra-curricular activity unlike most others they had tried before: a mass screening for narcotics abuse.

The children were all first volunteers in a novel and controversial drugs-prevention programme being pioneered here which, if successful, may be taken up by schools across the country. It is unusual not just because it introduces testing to the classroom for the first time, but also by virtue of the material gain it offers to pupils who come up clean.

The lure of reward is at the heart of the experiment - and explains why so many children joined in. Anyone showing negative - all 180 of them last week - can expect to be issued with laminated identification cards stating their drug-free status. More important, as far as the children are concerned, the cards will earn them generous special discounts in local shops and fast-food restaurants. They can look forward, for instance, to cheap pizza, free rounds at a local mini-golf course and dollars 3 ( pounds 2) off compact discs.

'The point is not to punish them but to give them an incentive to stay clean,' explains David Chilcote, a social worker at the local hospital who helped launch the scheme at a recent conference in Dallas, Texas, broadcast to 800 US hospitals. 'We've tried just about everything but rewarding the kids. We've tried to scare them and punish them and none of it has worked. So now we're going to try this and it's pretty exciting.'

The mechanics of it are fairly simple. Those pupils who took part here first had to get written permission from their parents. They were ushered into the toilets one by one to fill their beakers. The hot water supply had been turned off to make sure no one attempted to smuggle in an old sample and warm it up to body temperature, courtesy of the hot tap. The whole crop was then taken back to the hospital for immediate screening. Drugs taken even up to 45 days beforehand can be easily detected.

As part of the programme - dubbed International Drug Free Youth or IDFY (pronounced 'I Defy') - card-holders will be expected to set up classroom clubs with their own activities and by-laws. Meanwhile, about one in 10 will be selected randomly over the next 12 months for follow-up screenings.

In line with Mr Chilcote's determination to eliminate all threat of punishment, children who test positive at any stage in the programme will face nothing worse than being denied the discount card. The infraction will not be entered in any school records, nor will parents be informed. It is this part of the scheme, Mr Chilcote freely admits, that causes most controversy. Not all the Anderson schools, for instance, have yet agreed to take part.

But Bruce King, the principal in this school, situated in a relatively poor and racially mixed part of the city, has no such hesitations. 'Kids need privacy, they have their own lives, you know. This is just meant to be an incentive for them to clean up their act,' he says. He was especially gratified that so many of his pupils entered the programme. 'I had kids down there who, frankly, I had doubts about,' he admits.

Nor does David Reed, one of two uniformed Anderson policemen who daily walk the corridors of the school, have any doubts. His department is looking for ways to back up the initiative, perhaps by letting off children found at under-age drinks parties who are able to produce the drug-free cards. 'That could be the perfect time for them to tell us they belong to 'I Defy'. We could maybe then issue them with a certificate of appreciation,' Mr Reed says.

The patrolman has no illusions about the drugs problem in Anderson, a medium-sized city of about 40,000 people just north of Indianapolis. Supplies, of crack in particular, flow in growing quantities down Detroit and Chicago. One of Mr Reed's colleagues recently arrested two 17-year-olds trying to sell what they said was crack to two 10-year-old boys in a public playground.

So far the response from city traders has been encouraging. About a dozen establishments have promised to sign on to the programme - including the golf course, a cinema and a shop for baseball-card collectors. They will shortly receive special IDFY stickers to advertise their readiness to give the children discounts. 'We are very keen. I feel we need to do whatever we can to educate the kids. Whatever it takes,' says Peggy Murdock, owner of a sandwich shop.

The success of IDFY will rest ultimately on reaction in the schoolyard and peer pressures. If the discount cards come to be 'cool' - Jermaine hopes to use his to expand his training shoe collection - perhaps they will work. But there must be a risk that they will be seen instead as a badge of 'goody goody' compliance with authority - in other words, not cool at all.

Heather, a sparky 13-year-old, is optimistic: 'You know, until now, it was always the bad kids, when they get into a fight or something, who got all the attention. Now maybe it will be us.'

News
Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
people
News
people
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital