Survey shows heavy TTUSD teen alcohol use
The bad news is by eleventh grade, few Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District students perceive daily use of alcohol and marijuana as extremely harmful.
The good news is most students feel safe in their schools and in their neighborhoods.
More than 50 percent of district-wide 7th-, 9th- and 11th-graders were surveyed last spring in the California Healthy Kids Survey, 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 also assesses the perceived harm of frequent substance use, school violence and safety issues and physical activity and eating habits.
The findings indicate that alcohol is by far the most widely used substance across the grades; cigarette smoking rates tend to fall below alcohol use but are higher than marijuana use and marijuana exceeds all other drugs in high school.
The students who participated in the survey were required to have written permission from their parents, therefore the survey does not represent all students in the three grades tested. When the results were presented to the TTUSD Board of Trustees at last week’s meeting, some board members voiced concern about the 50 percent of students who were not represented.
“I’m concerned about the other percentage of students not surveyed, as well as the population of kids not in school,” board member Karen Van Epps said.
Students were asked if they used alcohol, tobacco and other drugs in the past 30 days. Of the 218 7th-graders who responded, 6 percent used cigarettes; 24 percent used alcohol; 6 percent used inhalants; and 5 percent used marijuana.
Of the 199 9th-graders surveyed, 17 percent used cigarettes; 54 percent used alcohol; 3 percent used inhalants; 29 percent used marijuana; and 2 percent used methamphetamines.
Of the 143 11th-graders surveyed, 25 percent used cigarettes; 65 percent used alcohol; 2 percent used inhalants; 40 percent used marijuana and 6 percent used methamphetamines.
Students were also asked about high risk behaviors associated with alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
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.”
Six percent of 7th-graders, 35 percent of 9th-graders and 51 percent of 11th-graders admitted to binge drinking, which was defined in the survey as the consumption of five drinks in a row in a single setting or occasion.
Eight percent of 9th-graders and 19 percent of 11th-graders surveyed said they had driven under the influence of alcohol.
The percentage of students who smoke cigarettes daily is low: 1 percent of 7th-graders, 3 percent of 9th-graders and six percent of 11th-graders.
The percentage of students who smoke marijuana daily is similar: 0 percent of 7th-graders, 4 percent of 9th-graders and 7 percent of 11th-graders.
The Healthy Kids Survey also presented how districtwide results compare to similar statewide and nationwide surveys (results presented in attached graph).
“I noticed the alcohol numbers are higher (in TTUSD) than the state and national (results),” board member Cindy Gustafson said.
The percentage of students who said they had been very drunk or sick from drinking was almost double the percentage of students who responded in the statewide survey, the 1997 California Student Survey (CSS).
The results also show that by the 11th grade, a smaller percentage of students believe daily use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana to be extremely harmful compared to students surveyed statewide. Twenty percent of TTUSD 7th-graders and only 7 percent of 11th-graders perceived daily use of alcohol as extremely harmful; whereas 46 percent of 7th-graders statewide and 36 percent of 11th-graders statewide perceived daily use of alcohol as extremely harmful.
The results were similar for perceived harm of daily marijuana use: 66 percent of TTUSD 7th-graders and 13 percent of 11th-graders perceived daily marijuana consumption as harmful; compared to 73 percent of 7th-graders and 42 percent of 11th-graders statewide.
Board members addressed concern for the need for drug and alcohol prevention education at the high school level. Most prevention programs for these issues end at the fifth grade level.
“It isn’t that we aren’t providing education, but we need to provide it in a way that kids hear,” Van Epps said. “It’s a developmental piece, where kids’ self-esteem starts to drop and peer actions become priority … Because they change developmentally, the education has to change.”
Van Epps said that statistics are good for a few things, but are scary because they are not always correct.
“But obviously, just what we have has given us good direction,” she said.
The board agreed that the district needs to focus on drug and alcohol prevention education at the high school level.
Laurie Martin, Director of Community and Youth Development for TTUSD, who presented the survey’s finding to the board at the meeting, said the district will look at ways to implement an educational piece in the high schools in the spring.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of informing kids and supporting students at the high school level,” Martin said. “We need to continue education around substance abuse and high risk behaviors in general at the high school level. We tend to back off a bit in high school.”
She said the district needs to be thoughtful on how they go about increasing substance abuse education, and will first go to the students to present the survey results.
Martin said the district will also utilize the expertise of school administrators and the Mountain Prevention Coalition (MPC), a multidisciplinary group of health educators and other community partners committed to working with students and their families.
The MPC currently provides educational programs in all district elementary, middle and high schools to help guide prevention activities. Programs include sex education, HIV education, violence awareness, sexual assault, nutrition education and DARE curriculum through the fifth grade.
Tahoe Women’s Services provides many programs at the schools especially in areas of violence, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Hilary Kleger, of TWS, explained at the board meeting that the core piece to all of these prevention programs is positive decision-making.
“All of the prevention work that happens (in our schools) deals with building resilience and self-esteem,” Kleger said.
Middle school and high school administrators brainstormed ways to build the relationship between schools and families and positive communication between school staff and parents with Martin. Ideas included:
— Motivate families to get involved
— Loosen the barriers between families and schools
— Ask, “Do we look the other way?”
— Make the community more aware of problems and available services
— Help families understand its OK to utilize services
— Ask, “Have we sent the appropriate message to our children?”
Martin said what concerned her most from the survey results were issues around alcohol, such as binge drinking and perceived harm of daily use.
“It’s the high risk behaviors, that’s where students are going to get hurt and make poor decisions,” she said. “It’s the double whammy of other high-risk behavior as well. That to me is of great concern and where we want to focus.”
She said the perceived harm, especially in frequent use of alcohol and marijuana, goes down as the students get older and they put themselves more at harm.
“I think we need to step up our education in those areas,” she said.
After presenting the survey results to the students, Martin said she will meet with MPC and student peer helpers on how to present new substance abuse prevention information.
“It’s about engaging the kids in conversation surrounding these issues,” Martin said.
One program she hopes to develop is a service-learning focus, where youth can participate in on-going meaningful activities in their communities. Examples include Sierra Watershed Education Partnership, cross-age tutoring and volunteering at after school programs. She said she hopes the community can offer such opportunities for youth involvement.
“We don’t have a real well-developed service-learning program in our district,” Martin said. “Kids are less likely to be involved in high risk behavior if they have meaningful activities.”
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