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Drug, alcohol survey provides insight into lives of S'side kids

Sunnyside School District Director of Safe and Effective Schools John Hughes provided the Sunnyside School Board last week with insight into some of the issues facing students regarding drugs and alcohol use.

Hughes presented the school board with the results of the healthy youth survey conducted of district students in the fall of 2004. The survey polled sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grade students. The survey included students at both the high school and PRIDE High School. As one could expect, the survey results varied depending on the age of the student.

"The survey is complex," said Hughes, adding that officials are still analyzing the results of the survey.

Some of the sponsors of the 170-question survey, which is done on a voluntary basis by students, included the Department of Health, Department of Social Health Services and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The survey is conducted every two years.

"If you look at the trends of use, we are slightly down," said Hughes.

The survey asked students about their drug and alcohol use in the last 30 days, as well as polling students on how they personally feel they are doing in school.

In his report, Hughes cited a particular need to implement some sort of drug and alcohol testing program for students attending PRIDE High School.

Sixth grade students

A total of 384 sixth grade students appropriately responded to the questions on the survey, said Hughes.

The most dramatic drop in substance abuse by local sixth grade students was in the area of cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking by Sunnyside sixth graders fell from 3.4 percent in 2002 to 1.3 percent in 2004. The 2004 total shows a significant decline in cigarette smoking by Sunnyside sixth graders from 2000, when 5.2 percent said they smoked. The 2004 figures also showed Sunnyside sixth graders were notably below the state average of 2 percent of students who reported smoking.

While down somewhat from 2002 figures, Sunnyside sixth graders still showed a significant use of alcohol and marijuana. Alcohol use by local sixth grade students fell from 7.8 percent in 2002 to 7.1 percent in 2004. The statewide average for alcohol use by sixth grade students in 2004 was 4.4 percent. There was also a decline in marijuana use, but the figure was still vastly above the 1.7 percent of sixth graders who reported using the substance statewide. In 2002, 3.5 percent of Sunnyside's sixth grade students said they used marijuana, compared with 3.0 percent in 2004.

In the area of academics 55.9 percent of the local sixth graders surveyed said they didn't feel they were meeting the necessary marks. Another 35.5 percent noted a low commitment to school while 26.5 percent said they had a favorable attitude towards drugs, up from 24.7 percent responding favorably to the question about drugs in 2002. Sunnyside is significantly above the state-wide figure of 40.6 percent of students who feel they are failing to meet academic requirements.

Eighth grade students.

The results for eighth grade students at Harrison Middle School were based on 311 survey responses.

Sunnyside eighth graders reported a significant decline in substance abuse across the board, most notably with the use of cigarettes, cocaine/crack and methamphetamine. Both cocaine/crack and methamphetamine fell from a reported use of 6.2 percent in 2002 to 5 percent in 2004. Cigarette use was down from 9.7 percent in 2002 to 7.6 percent in 2004. However, the decline in alcohol and marijuana use reported by Sunnyside eighth graders only fell minimally. In 2002, 28.8 percent of local eighth graders reported alcohol use compared with 28.7 in 2004. In 2002, 13.2 percent reported marijuana use in the last month (13 percent in 2004).

In 2004, 57.6 percent of the local eighth graders felt they weren't meeting academic requirements, up notably from 44.9 percent in 2002. Eighth graders also reported a serious upswing in their attitudes towards drugs, rising from 32.8 percent in 2002 to 42.3 percent in 2004.

Sunnyside High School

10th grade students

The survey used the results from 183 10th grade students at Sunnyside High School.

Based on the survey results, Sunnyside's sophomores tend to be moving away from cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, but crack/cocaine use is about the same as reported in 2002. The most significant decline was in the area of alcohol use, falling from 33.6 percent in 2002 to 26.3 percent in 2004. Local 10th graders reported an increase in the use of cocaine/crack, rising from 4.4 percent in 2002 to 5.6 percent in 2004. Area sophomores reported a slim decline in the use of methamphetamine and ecstasy. The survey showed a decline in the use of methamphetamine, falling from 4.8 percent in 2002 to 4.6 percent in 2004. Ecstasy use declined from 2.8 percent in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2004. Sunnyside's 10th grade students are well below the state-wide average in substance abuse with the exception of methamphetamine, which only 2.9 percent of the sophomores statewide reported using in the last month before taking the survey.

Interestingly enough, Sunnyside 10th grade students report a decline in wanting to use drugs, falling from a reported 38.1 percent of students who thought favorably of drugs in 2002 to 30.4 percent in 2004. Sunnyside sophomores are also more apt to stay committed to school. In 2002, 31.4 percent felt they had a low commitment to school, compared to 23.6 percent in 2004. A total of 52.9 percent reported they felt they were failing academically in 2004, compared with 52.7 percent in 2002.

Sunnyside High School

12th grade students

The survey results for Sunnyside High School 12th graders are based on the results from 113 students.

Sunnyside's seniors showed dramatic decreases in all substance abuse areas, except the use of methamphetamine and ecstasy. Ecstasy use rose from 2.4 percent in 2002 to 3.6 percent in 2004. Methamphetamine rose from a report use of 4.7 percent in 2002 to 5.4 percent in 2004.

Alcohol use declined for area seniors, falling from 45.8 percent in 2002 to 35.1 percent in 2004. Marijuana use also notably declined from 20.8 percent in 2002 to 10.7 percent in 2004. A reported 5.3 percent of seniors said they used crack/cocaine in 2004, down from 6.1 percent in 2002. Cigarette use declined from 14.2 percent in 2002 to 12.6 percent in 2004.

A high number of seniors felt they weren't making the grade at school, as 69.1 percent said they were failing academically in 2004, up from 53.9 percent in 2002. There was also a slight increase from 32.3 percent in 2002 to 33.3 percent in 2004 of the number of seniors who thought favorably of drugs. A total of 37.5 percent of seniors reported a low commitment to school, nearly the same as the 37.7 percent in 2002.

PRIDE High School

The exact number of students surveyed in the 10th and 12th grades at PRIDE High School wasn't available. The only figures available for PRIDE sophomores were from 2000, as not enough 10th graders properly responded to the survey to make it valid.

Based on 2000 figures, the most notable use of substances by PRIDE sophomores were marijuana and methamphetamine. A total of 57.9 percent of the sophomores at PRIDE reported using marijuana within the last month while another 26.3 percent reported using methamphetamine. Of those surveyed in 2000, 42.1 percent said they used cigarettes and alcohol while 27.8 percent had reported using cocaine/crack.

A total of 73.7 percent felt they weren't making academic progress in school while another 31.6 percent had a low commitment to school. Another 52.6 percent thought favorably of drugs.

In 2004, 24 percent of the seniors at PRIDE reported having used cigarettes. Another 48 percent said they used alcohol and another 36 percent said they had used marijuana within the last month. Of the seniors surveyed, 30.8 percent said they had used cocaine/crack, 16 percent used methamphetamine and another 4 percent had tried ecstasy within the last 30-day period.

46.2 percent of PRIDE seniors reported they felt they weren't meeting academic requirements at school. Another 53.8 percent had a low commitment to school and another 50 percent thought favorably of drugs.

"We have a very high use at PRIDE," said Hughes, who suggested offering some sort of drug/alcohol screening program next school year for students at PRIDE.

However, school director Lorenzo Garza wanted to make sure the district wasn't jumping the gun at PRIDE. Garza said he wanted to ensure the district couldn't be legally challenged by implementing a drug/alcohol screening program for students. But Garza was more concerned about the stigma that might be attached to PRIDE. He was quick to point out that substance abuse at PRIDE may seem higher than at the high school because the number of kids being surveyed are extremely less at the alternative school. Hughes acknowledged Garza's concerns, but didn't want the directors to discount the survey results.

The survey also touched on other subject areas, including whether or not students have enjoyed being at school and if they feel safe.

The most significant area of bullying in the district, based on the survey, is in the sixth grade, where 30.1 percent said they had been intimidated in the last month, which is consistent with the state average. The figures for bullying steadily declined as a student gets further in school. For the most part, Sunnyside students felt good about going to school. The lowest figure of students not enjoying school in Sunnyside was at the 12th grade level, where just 37.5 percent liked being in school. The sixth grade showed the largest response, with 56.9 percent of students saying they enjoyed school.

The district had some impressive responses for the number of students surveyed who felt they were safe at school. The sophomores had the least amount of students who said they felt safe at school, with 78.7 percent responding positively. The district sixth graders showed the largest amount of students who felt safe at school, 88.7 percent.

Hughes said he will be working with Sunnyside's Promise on interpreting the results of the survey. Hughes said there are a number of factors that are part of the problems facing youth with drugs and alcohol use. Hughes said one of the more important aspects is the home life of the youngsters.

"Parents make a big difference in reducing drug use," said Hughes. "Parents want information. They are not in denial. Whatever we do, we have to involve parents."

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