Washington students are more likely to feel unsafe at school but far less likely to smoke than in the past, according to a comprehensive statewide survey.
The statistics are based on hundreds of questions answered by teens for the Washington State Department of Health’s 2006 Healthy Youth Survey.
The voluntary biannual survey was given to students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12. Administered in the fall, the survey asks more than 250 questions ranging from whether a student has consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, to whether they wear a seatbelt while driving, to how often they eat at the dinner table with family.
“We use it for program planning, use it for grant writing to bring money into the schools,” said Tricia Hughes, the tobacco prevention coordinator for Educational Service District 101, which provides services to all Spokane County school districts. “We use it to see if what we are doing is working.”
According to the survey results, the number of students drinking remained mostly stable over the last two years. However, one in 10 high school students reported using prescription painkillers to get high, and more youth reported carrying a knife, gun or club to school, the survey said.
Highlights from students in Spokane County:
“ 46 percent of 12th- and 32 percent of 10th-graders reported drinking alcohol within 30 days.
“ 9 percent of 12th-graders and nearly 8 percent of 10th-graders carried a weapon to school.
“ 31 percent of sixth-graders said they were bullied at school, compared to 14 percent of 12th-graders.
“ 89 percent of sixth-graders and 84 percent of 12th-graders said they felt safe at school.
“ 8 percent of eighth-graders and 25 percent of 12th-graders reporting using marijuana or hashish.
“ 23 percent of 12th-graders reported smoking cigarettes. Of sixth-graders, only 3 percent said they had tried smoking.
“ 24 percent of 12th-graders reported coming to school high on drugs or drunk; compared to 19 percent of 10th-graders.
Other areas of the survey covered student’s health habits, such as exercise and diet, how many times they drove drunk or rode with someone who was drunk.
Some of the questions also addressed students’ perceptions. For example, one asked if a student thought it was “very wrong,” “wrong,” a “little bit wrong,” or “not wrong at all” to steal anything worth more than $5. Results showed that 58 percent thought it was “very wrong,” and 13 percent felt it was at least “a little bit wrong.”
But when the same question was asked about items worth less than $5, slightly fewer 10th-graders thought stealing was “very wrong.”
Some possible survey answers also seemed subjective. A question about whether a student gets along with their parents could have been answered with, “YES!,” “yes,” “no” or “NO!”
“What does that mean?” Hughes said. “It’s not real finite.”
The survey is long because it incorporates the interests of multiple agencies that regularly ask to collect information about students’ habits, Hughes said.
Officials said sometimes survey results also can scare the public into thinking kids are taking more risks than they actually are.
“One of the big things that we are working with is the impact of community norms, the attitude that ‘everyone in the school does it,’ ” said Dean Wells, with the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council.
He said fewer than half of seniors said they drank alcohol regularly.
“If the students believe that all high school students are drinking alcohol, it’s putting pressure on themselves,” Wells said. “And often the fact is that it’s not really true.”
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