Survey: Risky actions among youth change

Posted: Monday, January 11, 2010

Alaska's high schoolers are drinking less alcohol but instead are smoking more marijuana, according to a state report.

A smaller percentage of Alaska traditional high school students report consuming alcohol in the past 30 days, but slightly more report using marijuana during the same time frame, when compared to 2007 date. Slightly fewer students reported attempting suicide in the last 12 months compared to earlier data.

This is according to the state's 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial survey administered to Alaska youth on risky behaviors.

Ronalda Cadiente-Brown, program coordinator and drop-out prevention for the Office of Instructional services for the Juneau School District, said for the last several cycles of the biennial survey, Juneau has attempted to survey 100 percent of the sample school population, but that statewide efforts are somewhat stymied by the state's active parental consent requirement, meaning parents have to sign a slip to allow their kids to take it.

In order to be deemed valid, at least 60 percent of students statewide must respond to the survey request. This year, 62 percent responded.

"We just squeaked by that number (60 percent statewide). That's a challenge," she said.

While Cadiente-Brown said she was "eagerly awaiting" Juneau-specific information, the press release showed that "some risk areas have been reduced in good ways," she said.

One of the outcomes in the past has been funding for a substance abuse counselor in the schools, she said. School administrators also took the information into account when the Teen Health Center was expanding to Thunder Mountain High School, and it's used for writing grants.

Alaska Department of Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux said in a press release that the survey indicates "we have a long way to go" for students to feel safe socially, physically and emotionally at school.

This is the first year alternative high school students were surveyed as well; their results were tabulated in separate statistics.

In Juneau, Yakooskege Daakahidi has participated in the past, but under the umbrella of Juneau-Douglas High School; the numbers were included in Juneau-specific data, but not the statewide data, said Department of Health and Social Services Youth Risk Behavior Survey Coordinator Patty Owen.

As far as comparing alternative school students' risk taking to traditional schools, "For almost every measure, these students (alternative high school students) are at significantly higher risk than their peers at traditional schools," said a press release from the Department of Education and Early Development. The release also said alternative high school students were more likely than traditional high school students to have engaged in risk taking behavior before the age of 13.

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