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BHS seniors’ use of alcohol, pot spikes
By JULIA RINGO
For the Review
Each year, the Bainbridge Island School District issues a survey to assess the levels of drug and alcohol use – among other risky behaviors at the high school.
The results of this past school year’s Healthy Youth Survey, which is taken anonymously by students in the 10th and 12th grades during class, indicate both positive and negative trends at Bainbridge High School. They include an increase in the use of marijuana and alcohol by seniors and a decrease in both for the sophomores.
“As a school district and a community, there’s a lot of concern about the welfare of our young people,” said Associate Supt. Clayton Mork. In spite of the rules and networks the district has tried to establish, the “risky behaviors seem to remain stable.”
The statewide survey, sponsored by various youth safety, family policy and liquor control panels, is intended to gauge these behavioral patterns since many health problems can be caused by a few preventable habits formed in adolescence.
This year’s results indicate that in the 30 days before taking the survey, nearly 60 percent of BHS seniors reported drinking alcohol, compared to a state average of about 40 percent. This was an increase of about 5 percent from the 2006 graduating class’s results.
Among sophomores, about 25 percent were reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, a decrease from 2006 and lower than the state average.
Similarly, though 36 percent of this year’s seniors reported using marijuana or hashish in the previous 30 days – surpassing the state average of 24 percent and the 2006 seniors’ rate of 30 percent – sophomores showed a decrease from the 2006 results and the state average, with only 13 percent partaking.
Mork suggested that the new BHS health curriculum, which has provided new information on alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, may have contributed to the dip in 10th graders’ risky behaviors.
“The current 12th graders didn’t have the benefit of that curriculum, and that might account for the disparate ratings,” Mork said.
After seeing the trends indicated by this year’s report, the health advisory team has “toyed around with” the idea of installing a required health course for seniors that would refresh their knowledge before graduation.
Despite the seniors’ disappointing showing in the areas of drug and alcohol use, Mork said, the school district performed well in nearly every other area. For the first time since 2002, this year’s seniors and sophomores reported smoking cigarettes at a lower rate than the state average.
Mork also said the Spartans “knock the socks off” the rest of the state when it came to feeling safe in school. Continuing in the trend of the past six years, those surveyed reported feeling safer at school than the statewide average.
The Healthy Youth Survey also calculates students’ perceived influences by family, schools and friends. High proportions of students of all ages reported that their community, family and school all provided opportunities and rewards for “prosocial involvement”; the school performed particularly well in this category. Also, only 27.3 percent of seniors reported feeling a low commitment to school, a decrease both from younger students’ reported feelings and previous years.
The survey indicated that the number of students reporting depression or suicidal thoughts was significantly lower than the state average, though, as Mork noted, “the fact that we still have kids dealing with these things is sad” on its own.
When asked how the health advisory team deals with the possibility of error, for example, exaggeration or embellishment that anonymity might encourage, Mork said the survey is “a fairly well-planned, sophisticated assessment” in which there are systems in place to check for internal consistency.
Mork believes that the biggest factor in preventing students from engaging in risky behaviors is an open dialogue between parent and student.
“One of the best ways to keep our young adults safe is to just to make sure that parents are present and aware of what the kids are doing, and that all the guests are supervised,” he said. “Most of the police involvement, and injuries or death, happens when parents are not present.
“Having good relationships with your kids is most important.”