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Student drug survey planned

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Drug use, underage drinking and cigarette smoking – it’s not a new topic among adolescents.

Educators will administer a survey next month to community youth that addresses these issues, and they hope to use the data as a way to keep teens engaged and healthy.

Youth development programs have been the focus for teen educators and community activists in the Tahoe-Truckee area during the past two years in their attempt to raise awareness of the dangers of high-risk behaviors.

Just more than 50 percent of Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District-wide 7th-, 9th- and 11th-graders were given the California Healthy Kids Survey two years ago, a report issued by the California Department of Education which assesses the percentage of students engaged in risk behaviors such as drug and alcohol use.

The survey, for which results were released last spring, also assesses the perceived harm of frequent substance use, school violence and safety issues and physical activity and eating habits.

This year the Healthy Kids Survey will be administered to 5th-graders as well as 7th-, 9th- and 11th-graders. But school officials are hoping for a better sample than 50 percent of the students in those grades, and that is why it is important for parents to sign permission slips for their children or teens in these grades. Only students who bring in signed permission slips are allowed to participate in the survey, and this year school officials are trying to get the word out early.

“We learned from a low turn-out of parent permission slips that we did not have as complete of a sample as we would like to have,” said TTUSD Director of Community and Youth Development Laurie Martin. “It’s really important information for our community. The population we’re surveying includes approximately 1,500 students. I think that’s reflective of what’s going on in our community.”

This year, the district must at least have a 75 percent participation rate for the results to be official. The first round of surveys will given to students the week of Feb. 12.

The district chose to include 5th-graders in this year’s survey because behaviors are changing among children and teens at younger ages, Martin said. Fifth-grade students will be given different questions than the older students tested, geared for the elementary student.

“It’s interesting to see where attitudes have changed,” Martin said. “It gives us a sense of what kids are thinking in grade five compared to grade seven and where the transitions ensue … I think it will be valuable in helping us evaluate our programing.”

The main focus of this year’s survey and with current youth development programs is resiliency – the ability for youth to have the strength to make healthy decisions when faced with difficult choices. Martin and other community liaisons have been working to promote programs that work on resiliency and get children connected with their community.

The results of the 1999 Healthy Kids Survey showed that of the teens surveyed, a very high percentage of the students felt safe in their school and in their neighborhoods.

But the data also showed that by 11th grade, few students perceived daily use of alcohol and marijuana as extremely harmful and more TTUSD students participate in heavy drinking activities when districtwide results were compared with similar statewide and national results.

The responses to the answer of one question on the 1999 survey indicated there may be a lot of adolescents in our community who participate in binge drinking.

When asked if they had been “very drunk or sick after drinking,” 21 percent of 7th-graders, 49 percent of 9th-graders and 68 percent of 11th-graders responded they had. Fifteen percent of 7th-graders, 42 percent of 9th-graders and 58 percent of 11th-graders indicated they had “been high from using drugs.”

School counselors and community liaisons use the data to identify what areas need to be worked on and in the past year have added programs to address drug and alcohol issues.

Debbie Spohr, a school counselor with Sierra High School and Donner Trail Elementary School, said the data from the survey is important in helping her plan activities and programs for her students.

“I use this information to attempt to focus on the areas to build resilience,” Spohr said, adding that this year Sierra High has planned more field trips and alternative extra-curricular activities to have the students more involved with the community.

“We try to be very creative and adjust to whatever the needs of the kids or the school are,” Spohr said.

Martin said in the last two years new youth development programs have been offered to the students, and the schools have been responsive to these programs.

While there are many on-going programs with school district community partners, new programs in the last year include Youth in Action, Ground Zero, Youth Educators and a comprehensive prevention program at Sierra Mountain Middle School.

Eighth grade teacher Christine Smith has been impressed with how lively and open her students are to discussing issues surrounding drug, alcohol and tobacco use.

“My kids are really into it,” she said. “We have a lot of class discussion. At the very beginning we talked a lot about confidentiality.”

Students work with Smith to brainstorm answers to questions surrounding high-risk substances, make posters, watch videos and play games all geared towards enhancing their knowledge about drugs and alcohol.

“They need to think about this now, so that when it happens they are prepared,” Smith said. “It’s building the skills for being able to say ‘no.’ Hopefully we’re giving them the skills to realize it’s their choice and they don’t have to conform like everyone else.”


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