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Casual attitude toward drinking boggles board

School officials are frustrated by a survey showing widespread abuse.

By CHAD SCHUSTER

Staff Writer

Poised, articulate and projected onto a screen of white, they spoke of humanitarian and environmental efforts.

They touted T-shirt sales to benefit victims in Darfur and recycling programs to benefit Puget Sound.

Meanwhile, looking on through the darkness Thursday at a student-produced movie about the ways in which Bainbridge High School students are working to better the community, were school board members and officials who earlier this week received a vastly different image of student life.

“We have some really great kids who make some really stupid decisions,” said Josh Zarling, a member of the Health Advisory Team charged with analyzing the results of the recent Healthy Youth Survey.

Sponsored by the state, the survey asked students about their drug, alcohol and tobacco use, as well as other risky behaviors. It also asked questions about mental and emotional health. Different versions were administered to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12.

According to results, alcohol and marijuana use among Bainbridge students is considerably higher than the state average; tobacco use is about level with other areas of the state.

Fifty-three percent of seniors said they drink alcohol at least monthly, while 43 percent said they got “drunk or very high from drinking alcoholic beverages” at least once in the past month.

Discussing the problem Thursday, most officials agreed: just as troubling as student substance abuse are student attitudes toward drug and alcohol use.

A quarter of Bainbridge seniors said they felt it isn’t wrong to drink at their age, while only 16 percent of students statewide shared that opinion. Eighty-two percent, compared to 66 percent statewide, said they believe they will be seen as cool if they drink; 27 percent say they’ve been high or drunk at school.

“Talking to some seniors and juniors, some of them are actually proud of this,” Zarling said. “They want to one-up the other classes. The at-risk behavior I hear about is consistent with what everyone is seeing here (in the survey).”

Superintendent Ken Crawford said he was disappointed in the overall results, but was pleased to see that 97 percent of seniors said they feel safe at school.

School Board President Bruce Weiland was shocked to see that 10 percent of students have tried cocaine; only 1 percent say they have tried methamphetamines, in part, Zarling said, because they perceive it as a “low class” drug.

The results come despite continued efforts by the schools and the community to thwart risky behavior among Bainbridge teens. Several organizations sponsor family nights to compliment school programs that aim to educate students about the dangers of substance use.

Less than 30 percent of seniors said they received information in class about AIDS and HIV, noteworthy because AIDS education is required by the state.

The district is nearing the end of a health and fitness curriculum revamp that should address that problem, said HAT member Heidi McKay. As for the attitudes of students toward drugs and alcohol, school board member Mike Foley said the solution is more complicated.

Added Weiland: “Sometimes it feels like we’re only fighting half the battle,” he said. “I know what kind of values are coming out of our teachers. What kind of values are coming out of our parents?”

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