By NED P. RAUCH, Staff Writer
SARANAC LAKE – Nearly 70 percent of Saranac Lake High School teens had not smoked a cigarette in the last 30 days.
But more students have smoked marijuana than had done so five years ago, and they’re starting younger.
Sixty percent of senior girls and 42.7 percent of senior boys at Saranac Lake High School have had sex.
These findings and others are the result of a Youth Risk Behavior Survey designed by the Centers for Disease Control and administered last November by students in the school’s wellness class.
A November 2001 survey of Saranac High School students found, among other things, that:
- 11 percent of students claimed to have carried a gun or weapon on school property during the past 30 days.
- 22.1 percent of freshman girls and 28.9 percent of freshman boys have had sex.
- 2.4 percent of students used marijuana 40 or more times in the past 30 days.
- 19.7 percent of sophomore girls and 15.6 percent of sophomore boys said they had considered suicide.
They surveyed 601 out of 628 students and presented the results, as well as several recommendations, to the School Board recently.
School nurse Kathleen Hogan said the survey, which had been conducted once before in 1996, is part of an effort to employ a new theory in wellness education: positive risk reduction.
“We are attempting to change cultural norms,” she said. “We will use the (survey) by stating what students actually do to educate them to healthier habits and risk reduction.”
For instance, the survey shows that 5.1 percent of students used marijuana one or two times in the past 30 days, an increase of 0.4 percent since 1996.
But rather than use that figure in talking to students about drug use, Hogan suggested using its converse: 94.9 percent of students had not used marijuana at all in the past 30 days.
According to Hogan, that kind of approach more clearly shows students what their peers are doing.
To render that reasoning even more effective, the school obtained a grant from the Tri-Lakes Prevention Coalition to bring Dr. Wesley Perkins, a proponent of positive risk reduction from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, to Saranac Lake to lead a workshop for concerned parents, teachers and student leaders next September.
An article on the colleges’ Web site reported, “Perkins discovered a gap: Students misperceive the habits of their peers and then model their own behavior based on those misperceptions.”
Out of that workshop, Hogan said, the school plans to create a new program called “Facts and Reacts: a 2002 Approach to Risk Reduction.”
The wellness-class students who compiled the survey’s results have already begun that process.
They made recommendations as to how to curb risky behavior in each of the five categories addressed in the survey: exercise and nutrition; violence and safety; sexual activity; drugs, tobacco and alcohol; and suicide and mental health.
In a section of the report called “How to put a stop to violence,” for example, the students called for “Harsher punishment to students that choose to engage in violent behavior” and “more security.”
Regarding sexual activity, the students suggested that in-school counseling be made available to students with questions about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and emotional stress.
“Education and services must be provided earlier,” the report said, underlining the word, must.
And in looking at drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse, which the report said requires the attention of the community, school and families, the students recommended establishing a juice/dance bar and coffee house and inviting guest speakers to the school to talk about their experiences with substance abuse.
For Hogan, getting the community behind reducing risky behavior is essential, which is why the September workshop is not aimed only at students.
“Adult behavior has a huge impact, negatively or positively, on teen behavior,” she said.
“Putting positive risk reduction initiatives in communities like this will have a direct impact on teen decisions and behavior.”