Central Kenai Peninsula educators, for the most part, are not surprised by a recent student survey that showed 13 percent of sixth-graders experimented with sniffing inhalants.
Other findings of the survey validate what the community already believed to be true that more needs to be done to address risk factors in the home and to bolster support factors according to the Community Action Coalition, which administered the survey.
“I wasn’t surprised because of what I do,” said Judy Downs, safe and drug-free schools specialist and coordinator of the Alternative to Out of School Suspension (ATOSS) program.
ATOSS allows seventh- through 12th-grade students to continue their education after experiencing discipline problems in school.
“Even the high school kids were a little shocked (by the survey report on sixth-grader inhalant use),” Downs said.
Soldotna Middle School Principal Sharon Moock said, “When kids have these kinds of (drug) problems, we can’t educate them. They can’t concentrate.”
Downs and Moock were commenting on survey results revealed by CAC during a community meeting to discuss the Prevention Needs Assessment conducted in central peninsula schools Feb. 22.
At a community meeting May 22, the coalition revealed results from sixth-graders who were surveyed. Survey results from eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders are to be presented at future meetings.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School District assistant superintendent Sam Stewart said that while the district is still trying to digest all the data presented from the survey, “There’s nothing there not already known to us.”
He said the school district plans to continue with programs it has in place to address substance abuse, including the health education curriculum and ATOSS program.
“We’ll see if we need to make adjustments in the curriculum,” Stewart said.
Seventy percent of the 424 sixth-graders enrolled in central Kenai Peninsula schools participated in the survey, and of those, 13.2 percent said they had used inhalants to get high during their lifetime. Another 5.2 percent of the sixth-graders had participated in binge drinking.
“I don’t think the average parent expected that,” said Marilynn Jackson, CAC project director.
“What it means to me is validation of what we believed was true on the peninsula. We need help with family support factors,” she said.
Stewart also said the survey results show drug abuse to be more of a community problem a family problem than a school problem.
“I’m not naive ... not saying we don’t have drugs in school,” he said. “When we have drug offenses we’re aware of, we’re pretty swift to act.”
Stewart said the school district would continue working with the coalition to analyze results from the survey.
Moock said the key from the CAC statistics “has to do with the situation at home the connectiveness these kids have with family and friends and the modeling these kids see at home.”
Though the middle school where she is principal has seventh- and eighth-graders, Moock said the sixth-graders will be coming to her school.
“I was hoping they were going to say they have grants for programs,” Moock said of her expectations in attending the coalition’s meeting.
She said the school district health curriculum covers drugs and alcohol, the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program “builds a good relationship between police officers and kids,” and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula offers safe activities for youth.
Moock said she feels the drug problem among young people exists in part because it’s in the home, but “more likely because it’s socially accepted (by peers).”
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