Potential changing trends were reflected in the California Healthy Kids Survey administered to fifth, seventh, ninth, and eleventh graders in December 2010. The results were reported to the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees at a recent meeting by the district’s Director of Categorical Programs Kristi Rapinchuk.
The survey examines risk patterns and resiliency in students, as well as alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use (ATOD) and also ATOD use on school property. There were both healthier and less healthy behaviors that were revealed in the survey of Oakdale youth.
“When we compare ourselves to state and national data, risk behaviors are lower in most areas: tobacco use (i.e. cigarettes), alcohol, inhalants… that’s good,” Rapinchuk said.
However, at the board meeting she stated that use of chewing tobacco and marijuana are the big concerns locally, as well as students who reported getting high from drugs, including prescription medications, in the ninth and eleventh grades.
She pointed out that the most recent data available from the state and nation were from 2007. For county comparisons, that data was from 2008-2009. Those districts included Riverbank, Turlock, and Waterford, as well as the county survey. She also said that the district has had consistent trends since 2001 and because of the recent changes in data, the results can’t be established as a trend until there is three years worth of data.
Risk, Resiliency Patterns
“The area where I see an increase in local youth is marijuana,” Rapinchuk said. “That’s the area that we had a big jump in.”
On the survey, when asked the question “During the past 30 days did you smoke marijuana?” 19 percent of Oakdale ninth graders responded in the affirmative, a seven percent increase from the 2008 survey. For eleventh graders, 25 percent of them responded that they had used, an increase of five percent from the previous survey.
“Marijuana is the gateway,” Rapinchuk said. “That’s the thing we really need to focus on.”
When asked if increased marijuana use will lead to increased drug use, she responded with the example that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has had a large initiative in the Central Valley with methamphetamine use. She said they noticed a correlation that the vast majority of meth addicts had experimented with marijuana or binge drinking in high school. She added that there is not a reverse correlate.
An encouraging positive trend in the data at all grade levels is that OJUSD students who talked to their parents about the dangers of ATOD use during the past year. Amongst seventh graders, such conversations were at 76 percent, up from 67 percent in 2008 and 71 percent in 2006. For ninth graders, the results showed 58 percent, equal to 2006 results but up from 37 percent in 2008. For eleventh graders, 71 percent talked with their parents about ATOD use, up from 43 percent in 2008 and 61 percent in 2006.
Rapinchuk said that usually as parents talk to their kids more, it decreases risk behavior. She also said the change in the data from 2008 plus the 2010 increase in parental conversations supports the idea that there is an external factor that has caused the increase in the risk behaviors.
At the school board meeting where Rapinchuk gave the survey results, she mentioned that historical trends of adult data during economic downturns have shown that there are increases in spending on entertainment and in substance abuse. She suggested that it could be a possibility that those behaviors may filter down to the youth as well.
“I hear stories of families that are in duress,” she said.
She added that at this point, however, it’s all just discussion because they don’t have any concrete reasons why the increases in risk behavior have happened.
She added that informal discussions about the survey results also included the possibility that the marijuana issue entering the political fray in California changed or altered students’ perceptions about the drug.
Another high-risk pattern was revealed in the question, “During your life, have you ever been drunk/high on school property?” It showed that Oakdale eleventh graders are at 26 percent, compared to 25 percent on the state survey and as much as 10 percent to four percent higher than other schools in the county. Ninth graders are at 15 percent, two percent higher when compared to the state survey, but lower when compared to other schools in the county.
Rapinchuk said that this question doesn’t just mean while school is in session, it also includes events on the school campus. She noted that eleventh graders, for the most part, can drive, which gives them increased access to pick up substances. If they are using in a vehicle at school that still counts as being on school property. Students who have cars or access to vehicles have more independence.
“As a parent, support them being independent,” Rapinchuk said, “but still monitor their behavior.”
She said that it’s still important for parents to check and call the homes to verify that their students are where they say they are, for example. She added that compared to other area communities in the survey, Oakdale is informally known as having more student cars in the parking lot.
Another survey question was, “During your life, have you ever been high from using drugs?” Eleventh graders are at 38 percent, one percent higher than the state and a difference of 10 percent to one percent higher than the other county schools. For ninth graders, they are at 29 percent compared to 22 percent for the state survey. At the county level, their result is four to five percent higher than the other schools, except Riverbank, which was at 40 percent.
For chew tobacco or snuff use in the past 30 days, Oakdale ninth graders were at seven percent, which is six percent to three percent higher than the county schools, two percent higher than the state and one percent higher than the nation. Eleventh graders are at six percent, equal to the state and nation levels but three percent to one percent higher than the county schools.
Rapinchuk said she’s been thinking out loud why the district’s students were headed in such a positive direction and now there’s been some change. She said that although state and federal funding for such programs have been cut, OJUSD has obtained a competitive grant and have been keeping the local anti-drug and alcohol programs in place. She believes it must be an external factor.
Amongst fifth graders, for risk factors, there was an average decrease of one percent. For resiliency factors, there was an average increase of one percent. For seventh graders, there was an average decrease of two percent in risk factors and an average increase of four percent in resiliency factors. Those are positive results. Rapinchuk said that one percent is significant.
Other results that showed Oakdale students had healthier behaviors than the state and nation amongst both ninth and eleventh graders in the areas of binge drinking, smoking cigarettes on school property, current cigarette use, and current inhalant use. Amongst eleventh graders, drinking to the point of being sick and alcohol use were also lower than the state and national data. These results were similar when compared to other schools in the county as well.
Rapinchuk said that the Action Team, comprised of district administrators, teacher leaders, classified staff, parents and community volunteers, will meet on April 12 to discuss the results of this survey and review the effectiveness of different aspects of the drug and alcohol education programs and see if changes need to be made.
She said they’ll discuss areas in which they see increases in substance abuse and ask if they are related to the economic climate. If there’s a connection, she said they need to continue education about risks, such as the “Drugstore Project” for all fifth and sixth graders planned for May 2012, and to focus on character education that’s filled with hope.
“If a kid feels hopeless, that’s one reason they might use,” Rapinchuk said.
That education may include having students study the stories of people who’ve done the right thing in hard times, as well as more on the county’s “Choose Civility” initiative.
“Even when things are tough, that’s when the hero in our heart needs to rise up,” she said. “…Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.”
She feels that the state and national data at this time are somewhat unfair comparisons, but it’s the most recent available. She also noted that school districts are required to administer the survey but they do cost “a bit of money.”
At the school board meeting, she said that the data over the past few years has shown positive trends, that the “ship has been righting itself.”
More information about the Healthy Kids Survey will be posted on the OJUSD website within a week.