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Danville Express

Newsfront - March 28, 2008

Pot more popular with 11th-graders

Local students below state average in drug usage - until the junior year

by Geoff Gillette

While an annual survey on the usage of alcohol and drugs in the school district shows a downward trend, 11th-grade marijuana use is up.

Members of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District Board were presented with the annual California Healthy Kids report at their meeting last week.

"Any school that receives tobacco prevention funds is required to give a survey of usage," said Scott Gerbert, district Program and Grant Coordinator. "This district since 1999 has made the decision to give that survey every year."

The Healthy Kids survey is done annually in compliance with Title IV Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities funding, said Gerbert. The survey gathers data from several different school levels on physical activity, nutrition and usage of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

The survey was given to students in the fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th grades this year, and Gerbert said annual numbers continue to show a downward trend in usage of alcohol and drugs, even while the number of respondents has increased. Surveyed were 1,381 fifth-graders; 1,572 seventh-graders; 1,367 ninth-graders; and 1,408 11th-graders. Students were asked a wide variety of questions regarding their habits.

Gerbert said the three younger age groups are well below the state averages both for lifetime usage and what the students did in the past 30 days. Those two benchmarks are included to show the percentage of students who are just now beginning to experiment with these substances as opposed to those who have been using or exposed to them for a longer period of time.

Seventh-graders in particular were well below state averages.

"In almost every area, seventh-graders are 50 percent below the state average," said Gerbert.

Eleventh-graders, on the other hand, seemed to be an area of concern. Survey results showed that almost across the board, 11th-graders are at or above state averages for lifetime usage of tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. And in the last-30-days category, marijuana usage showed a significant increase over the fall 2005 figures.

In 2005, 19 percent of respondents said they had tried marijuana in the past 30 days, while in fall 2007, that number was 24 percent.

School Board Vice President Joan Buchanan said she thinks this may be an indicator that prevention programs are not proving to be as effective as hoped.

"Our kids are in a lot more sheltered environment than a lot of kids. What I've seen is that by the 11th grade, kids are at the average," she said. "Clearly the long term impact of the programs is not there. That's the general conclusion you can draw from this."

Gerbert said he feels environmental factors also play into these figures.

"They have transportation, they are expanding their influence as to what they can get to," he said about 11th-graders. "A lot of adults see them as young adults; they have a lot of the same pressures as adults. Kids are starting to experiment a bit more, they're getting out more. I'd like to see us doing some more support things at the 11th and 12th grade level. I'm not sure where to do that, but I'd like to see it happen."

Trustee Rachel Hurd said that programs have changed, but the long term effects remain to be seen at the high school level.

"We replaced D.A.R.E. with Character Counts. But we haven't seen those kids come through yet," Hurd said.

Board President Greg Marvel asked if Gerbert could do some research into programs at other high schools to determine if there is a way to increase awareness and cut those numbers down at the upper levels as well as continuing to keep those figures down in the lower grades.

Gerbert said that despite the trend at the 11th grade, he feels the results they are seeing are fairly positive.

"In general we do really well," he said. "Our kids feel safe on our campuses."

He added they can look at other programs as well as examine expanding the questions asked in the survey in order to get a clearer picture of issues affecting the student population.

In other action, board members gave the go ahead to district staff to begin negotiations with Chartwells Dining Services to provide Food Consulting Services to the district.

Earlier this year, the district sent out for bids from providers for food services; two bids were received, one from current provider Sodexho and one from Chartwells. A committee of district personnel and parents examined the two proposals and came back with an endorsement of the Chartwells proposal.

Board members authorized Assistant Superintendent Mike Bush to begin talks with Chartwells for its services.

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