It’s easy to lament the harsh reality that many children in our community are drinking or using illegal or prescription drugs starting as young as junior high. It takes someone with passion, dedication and drive to do something about it.
For Hamilton Southeastern Schools, that person is Lisa Wissman. For the last eight years, Wissman has been a crusader for child safety through the Parents in Partnership (PIP) program.
“She inspires parents by her dedication and knowledge of all aspects of what our children are being exposed to daily,” says Lisa Heiden Peters, who also volunteers with PIP. “Lisa always talks about the importance of initiating important conversations with our children, about the risks of alcohol and drugs and risky behaviors that will impact their lives for years to come.”
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PIP is a group run by seven local moms representing all HSE junior high and high schools. While the goal is to keep kids safe, this group is for parents.
“We’re giving parents the permission and the courage to communicate with other parents,” Wissman explains, adding that parent involvement and awareness is key to preventing tragedy.
It was the tragic death of a student in the early ’90s that revived the PIP program, bringing it under the umbrella of the PTO. Roger Norris, then principal of HSE Junior High, was deeply troubled after a student died from huffing freon from an air conditioning unit after school. PIP had been started by a parent several years earlier but had faded away when her children were no longer in the school system.
Norris, who still keeps a photo of the student in his desk, wanted to make sure the school was doing all it could to prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future.
That’s where Wissman came in. She and husband Brial had just moved to Geist with with their three sons from Ohio, and she was looking to get involved in the community. Her oldest, Grant, was in 7th grade at HSEJH (he’s now a sophomore in college).
Wissman not only met the challenge of reviving PIP, she and the PIP team have expanded and improved the program to the point that several other school systems are looking to HSE as a model, Norris said.
PIP has three main components: A parent pledge and telephone directory; community partnerships; and Parent Awareness Nights. The next one is set for Oct. 14 at Noblesville High School and is for parents from all Hamilton County school systems. Isabel Burk will be speaking on stimulant use (from energy drinks to prescription drugs), and there will be a presentation on Internet safety as well.
“Through our awareness programs, we are giving parents the knowledge and courage to have good conversations with their kids,” Wissman explains.
The core of the PIP program has always been the parent pledge and directory. Every family at the two high schools and three junior highs has an opportunity to sign a pledge each year, vowing, among other things, to prohibit alcohol and drug use among minors and to supervise all gatherings at their home. Parents who choose to participate in the PIP Pledge are then listed in a directory so they may easily contact one another. That way, if your child tells you about a party, you can call the parent in charge and find out details first-hand.
Every year the number of participating families has grown by 20 percent. This year, about 2,000 directories will be mailed, Wissman said.
Sometimes parents feel secure because their teen has a cell phone; however, Wissman points out, you only know what your child tells you. Even if they say they’re staying at their best friend’s house, still call to make sure. It’s not uncommon for kids to use that as a cover for attending an unapproved party, as in the case of one recent tragedy, Wissman noted.
“It’s not enough to just sign the pledge,” she says. “You still need to pick up the phone.”
She’s careful to note that the organization is not out to be “Big Brother” but only exists to keep parents informed and connected. If a parent has a serious complaint or concern about something going on at another home, they are directed to call an anonymous tip line for the Fishers Police Department.
After eight years at the helm, Wissman is preparing to hand the wheel over to other dedicated parents in the group. Suma Kolla and Lori Starr will split the responsibilities of managing PIP next year while working with the other team members, Karen Palmer, Heidi Hollings, Lisa Heiden Peters and Linda McGowan.
As for Wissman, she’ll remain “employed by community volunteerism.” In addition to her work with PIP, Wissman is on the HSE Schools Foundation board and is a co-chair for the Dollars for Scholars campaign. Additionally, she uses her experience with PIP as a strategic planner for SNAP, a grassroots initiative of the Hamilton County Legacy Foundation to change the attitude toward underage drinking and drug use in the county (snapintoaction.com).
Wissman is also involved with a startup nonprofit called the 60-Plus Club (www.60-plusclub.org), aimed at helping people stay in their own homes as they age. Although Wissman is not yet 60, the mission spoke to her because she has been providing companionship through weekly visits with an elderly couple for the last seven years. Harry, 101, and Margaret, 95, still live in their own home, and Wissman would like to see more resources available for others like them.
As friends, colleagues and acquaintances of Lisa Wissman already know, our community is a safer, better place because of her passionate efforts and get-it-done attitude.
“Many tragedies have been prevented because of Lisa Wissman and her group,” remarks Roger Norris of HSE. “We just don’t know what they all were. It’s hard to measure, but I know it’s having an impact.”