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Survey: Alcohol and pot use down in DL students

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Detroit Lakes Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

A recent survey shows Detroit Lakes students are "just saying no" more often.

The chemical health coordinator for the Detroit Lakes School District, Angie Horner, relayed what she calls some very positive survey results to the school board Monday.

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"We have decreased in every risky behavior across the board," Horner reports.

Every three years, the Minnesota student survey asks sixth-, ninth- and twelfth-graders a variety of questions, and it's done in an anonymous way.

"We have no way of tracking whose survey is whose -- that way we tend to get more valid, accurate results," said Horner.

The survey questions the students on risky behavior including things like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, bullying and sexual activity.

It also questions them about positive issues like school connectedness, community and family.

"It helps us to identify what attitudes and behaviors our young people are dealing with, and it also helps us to evaluate whether our programs are working and our messages are effective or whether they're not," said Horner.

The volunteer survey was taken last spring (2010), with about 88 percent of the students asked participating.

Horner says probably the biggest issue they track is alcohol use because it is the most commonly used drug among young people in Minnesota.

A few sample questions and answers from DL students:

Reported use of tobacco in the past 30 days:

6th grade boys 1%

girls 2%

9th grade boys 17%

girls 11%

12th grade boys 45%

girls 25%

Reported drinking alcohol in the past 30 days:

6th grade boys 4%

girls 4%

9th grade boys 19%

girls 16%

12th grade boys 38%

girls 25%

Reported drinking and driving in the past year:

9th grade boys 5%

girls 1%

12th grade boys 6%

girls 10%

Reported using marijuana or hashish in the past 30 days:

6th grade boys 0%

girls 0%

9th grade boys 11%

girls 9%

12th grade boys 22%

girls 13%

Reported having sexual intercourse at least once:

9th grade boys 20%

girls 16%

12th grade boys 45%

girls 42%

There are several, more in-depth questions that go along with some of these questions, including frequency, how many sexual partners and how/where the students obtained drugs or alcohol.

Horner says with the exception of a few, unexplained spikes, (like one that saw a rise in drinking among last year's ninth-grade girls) reports of risky behaviors in Detroit Lakes students have continued to drop, specifically since 2001.

That's the year 52 percent of senior girls reported drinking and driving, down to the more current 10 percent.

"And that's the year we had a drinking and driving accident involving three students, where two were killed," said Horner.

Horner told the board that although they can't know for sure that's the reason alcohol use and drinking and driving has went down, they suspect it's a big factor.

She also says another reason could be the fact that Detroit Lakes teens talk more openly to their parents about these issues.

"That's one of the questions in there, do you feel like you can talk to your mom or dad, and a large percentage of our students are doing that, so that's really positive," said Horner.

Horner says this survey shows DL students falling below state standards in every risk category.

"And significantly too; they're a couple of percentage points below the Minnesota average on pretty much everything, so that's a good thing."

The report also touches on suicidal thoughts or actions, bullying, skipping school, violence in the home and school, gambling, and extra-curricular activities.

"And what we've found is that students who are involved in sports, church, volunteering, and extra curricular activities are far less likely to be the ones drinking or doing drugs," said Horner, adding, "It keeps them busy and keeps them interested in staying healthy."

Although it's anonymous, the validity of high school surveys can still come under question, as some teens report not being totally convinced they won't be somehow incriminating.

But if these surveys are truly indicative of the students' behavior, the results are even surprising some of the students themselves.

"In talking to some of them, I've noticed they perceive the problems being worse than they really are; they think more of their peers are drinking and I'm telling them, 'no, not everybody is doing this'," Horner said.

Although Horner says even one student participating in risky behaviors is too many, the downward trend is a great start.

"We're definitely moving in the right direction; it's a good, strong, positive direction."

To get a complete copy of the report, email Angie Horner at ahorner@detlakes.k12.mn.us.

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