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Funds Cut Despite Success

POSTED June 9, 2009 3:25 p.m.
The California Healthy Kids Survey has shown overall decreases in substance use and violence in Oakdale schools, but funding for the programs that have fueled these results has been severely cut and the district is playing a waiting game to see if grant funding will come through.
The Oakdale Joint Unified School District Director of Categorical Programs Kristi Rapinchuk recently reported to the school district’s Board of Trustees about the California Healthy Kids Survey results. The survey was administered in December 2008 in Oakdale schools to students at the fifth, seventh, ninth, and 11th grade levels.
She talked about the data collected in the survey and talked about the benefits for the Power of One character education program and how its impact is reflected in the data. She said that she had some “very exciting” news as it pertained to the survey, reporting that risk behavior and substance use is decreasing in many areas in the grade levels surveyed.
She said that there are healthy trends overall, especially as it relates to violence. The majority of the indicators showed decreasing numbers for violence, fear of violence, and gang involvement.
“Without all this data, we would only be guessing. Now we know,” said OJUSD trustee Bill Dyer at the board meeting.
In the survey, fifth grade students were asked questions about bullying/harassment and questions about experimentation with substances.
“Kids that experiment at a young age are more likely to become habitual users later on,” Rapinchuk stated.
In seventh grade, as well as for ninth and 11th grades, students are asked if they’ve used alcohol, tobacco or drugs in the past 30 days. That figure shows potential for regular users. A decrease was shown for each grade level in every area of use: cigarettes, chew/snuff tobacco, marijuana, and inhalants.
However, Rapinchuk said that for alcohol use there was an increase from 14 percent to 16 percent in the seventh grade group. Though that amount is nominal, she said, it does show a trend. She said that she looks at trends over time to see if things are getting better or worse.
Rapinchuk said that she focuses on and pulls out “Key Performance Indicators” from the detailed report generated by the survey. That is the data that they can “bank on,” she said. After reviewing the indicators she then takes a look at supporting data to figure out why things are going that way. If an unhealthy trend is discovered, she said they look deeper into the data to figure out why.
“Data analysis drives next year’s curriculum and activities for the district,” she said.
In the survey, it also asked if the kids had talked to their parents about the dangers of alcohol, tobacco, or other drug use within the last year. The data showed that the number has declined significantly since the last survey in 2006.
“Fewer parents are having these critical conversations with their children,” Rapinchuk said during the presentation to the OJUSD trustees.
For seventh graders the figure went from 76 percent in 2006 down to 67 percent in 2008. For ninth graders the figure was at 58 percent in 2006 and decreased to 37 percent by 2008. For 11th graders, it went from 71 percent in 2006 down to 43 percent in 2008. For non-traditional (i.e. East Stanislaus High School) that figure was at 56 percent in 2006 and at 48 percent in 2008.
“For me, the biggest, scariest trend is the parent piece,” Rapinchuk said, noting the significant decrease between 2006 and 2008. She added that research has shown that parents and children talking about these issues is the biggest deterrent at every grade level.
She said that the district will focus on prevention and “beef up” prevention activities for fifth and sixth graders next year, and will also focus on increasing parental involvement by encouraging them through letters and e-mails to talk to their children about these topics.
The Power of One character education program was implemented in the 2003-2004 school year. The Power of One curriculum involves making healthy choices, doing the right thing, dealing with peer pressure — all at age-appropriate levels. The majority of the focus in the program is on prevention and Rapinchuk said they are seeing the “ship” turn in the right direction. She added that there are parent resources on the district’s website for the Power of One program.
Last year, the “Drug Store Project” was staged for sixth graders in the district — a production that involved help from many law enforcement, emergency, and other agencies that showed a series of vignettes in tents on campus that the students toured. These included a mock arrest of a fellow student who had an “illegal substance” on their person, a jailhouse booking, a party where a student died from consuming drugs and alcohol, a mock funeral, and more.
The goal of the project was to increase the knowledge base of students so they could make wiser decisions. Rapinchuk said there are plans to do the Drug Store Project again next year for fifth and sixth graders and then do it every other year after that, but the district needs a grant to put it together.
Rapinchuk said that there has been a decrease in funding to these programs by two-thirds unless a grant is received for the 2009-2010 year. Funding for character education in 2008-2009 was $10,000, but projected funding for 2009-1010 is $0. Title IV funding was cut by $2,600, to bring it to $10,458 for 2009-2010. TUPE (Tobacco Use Prevention Education) had been funded at nearly $6,800 but is projected at $0 for the 2009-2010 year as well. That makes more than $19,000 in cuts to these programs.

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