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Student survey shows more drinking, drug use

Survey highlights worrisome trends in schools

Students attending Islander Middle School and Mercer Island High School reported, via survey, higher instances of drinking, bullying and drug use compared to state averages, based on last fall’s Healthy Youth Survey.

The biennium survey, given to sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth-grade students by the state, helps communities and schools identify risky behaviors and ways to support youth in the community.

At IMS, the key issues identified by the survey results were: giving students a better awareness of what constitutes bullying, continuing to educate parents and students about the risks of alcohol and drug use, and providing more information on students’ computer usage and how it can affect health. Overall, 249 sixth-grade students took the survey, while 329 eighth-grade students responded.

At the high school, key issues included alcohol use and binge drinking, illegal drug use and continued education for parents. The survey was taken by 166 sophomores and 149 seniors. MISD Director of Instruction and Assessment Michael Schiehser said participation at the high school was low due to some miscommunication about the survey and when it was to be given, but plans are in place to rectify those issues during the next survey.

Lifetime alcohol use, defined as having more than a sip of alcohol, was on par with the state averages for middle school students, as well as with high school students. Current alcohol use, or having a drink within the last month, was less concerning for sophomores at 17 percent, compared to 32 percent in the state. However, 47 percent of seniors said they have had a drink recently, while only 41 percent seniors statewide answered yes.

Binge drinking, another area of concern identified by the district, is defined as having five or more drinks in one setting within the last two weeks. Eleven percent of the sophomores at MIHS who took the survey binge drank last fall, along with 28 percent of the seniors. State averages were 18 percent for sophomores and 26 percent for seniors.

Seniors were also above average in reported illegal drug use. Thirty-four percent said they had used an illegal drug in the last month, compared to a state average of 25 percent. Sophomores were below the state average by 8 percent.

Forty-nine percent of seniors said they had smoked marijuana during their lifetime. The state average is 45 percent. When asked if they had smoked marijuana in the last month, 34 percent of MIHS seniors who took the survey said yes, while 23 percent of the state’s seniors surveyed also said yes.

Chris Harnish, a Youth and Family Services counselor based at MIHS, said the data would be used to help target areas of teaching. Through the school’s health classes, Harnish said that faculty would focus on teaching students about the signs and symptoms of binge drinking and alcohol poisoning.

“We’re giving kids a prevention model,” he said.

Bullying was identified as an area of concern at IMS. Twenty-five percent of sixth-graders said they had been bullied, compared to 30 percent at state level. Statewide, 29 percent of eighth-graders said they were bullied in the last month, while 35 percent of IMS eighth-graders said the same. At the high school, answers were the same or similar to the state averages.

IMS Principal Mary Jo Budzius said figuring out how best to teach and prevent bullying at the school has been a long-standing goal, but it is an area that administrators still need to work on.

“This is a huge issue, and it is shifting. The technological piece has ramped up what our kids can do,” she said.

IMS uses a program like Bridges at the high school level, called BaSoC, which teachers and staff have used to educate about and combat bullying. Budzius said that the goal is to give students a strong sense of community with classmates and teachers.

On a more positive note, middle and high school students were above the state average in their enjoyment of school, according to the survey. Fifty-four percent of sixth-graders and 48 percent of eighth-graders who took the survey said they often or almost always enjoy being at school. The state average is 53 percent for sixth-graders and 45 percent for students in eighth grade. At the high school, 96 percent of sophomores and seniors surveyed said that they felt safe at school.

YFS Director Cindy Goodwin said that the department uses the data to target prevention and education.

“On the whole, it is the best thing we’ve got going,” she said of the survey data.

A copy of the survey can be obtained on the district’s Web site at www.misd.k12.wa.us.

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