Pride Survey: Los Alamos parents can help reduce student drug use

-A A +A
By Gabriel Vasquez

The results from this year’s Pride Survey are in.

The verdict?

Los Alamos middle and high school students drink less than the national average, but are right on par with drug use in schools around the country.

The survey, designated an official measurement of adolescent drug and alcohol use in America by the federal government in 1998, is administered annually to Los Alamos students to help school and community organizations develop strategies to help troubled students get back on track.

“What we’re doing is getting intervention and help for students and their families at a lower threshold before they get way out of whack,” said youth advocate Morris Pongratz.

Traditionally, the survey has asked students questions related to the frequency of their alcohol and drug use, but recent versions of the study now measure behavior on crucial issues that affect learning, like relationships with family, self-discipline, involvement in extra-curricular activities and tobacco use.

According to this year’s survey, a significant finding among both middle and high school students in Los Alamos shows that students who live in single-parent households drink alcohol at triple the rate of those students who live with both parents.

Fifteen percent of students who live with only one parent reported drinking beer once a week or more, versus 5 percent of those who reported the same that live with two parents.

“Parents are the first and most important asset in helping their children through adolescence,” Pongratz said. “If I had any message to give to parents, I would say that if your child gets called into the principal’s office or gets stopped by the police, take it seriously.”

The study found that 58 percent of students who responded that their parents “never” set clear rules had used illegal drugs in the past year, as opposed to those who said their parents set clear rules “a lot”, of which only 11 percent reported using drugs in the past year.

“It’s important that parents set clear rules, the schools, the county and the community-at-large are only secondary,” Pongratz said.

Los Alamos Public Schools prevention specialist Georgina Williams said that it is largely the parents’ responsibility to keep track of their children’s behavior, although recently community groups such as the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, strict enforcement of rules by local police and local youth programs have helped deter students from illicit behaviors.

“Because of sanctions that teen court and the police department are putting in place, we are catching a lot of these kids before they fall through the cracks,” Williams said.

Other youth advocacy programs in the county include Los Alamos Youth Leadership, Safe Haven, Girls Circle, Envision Your Future and Rock the Top.

“If we see the need, we get money and form programs collaboratively,” Williams said. “We invite the public to come to us and say, ‘this is what we’re seeing, these are the needs,’ and we will form the programs accordingly.”

Other findings in this year’s local Pride Survey indicated that participation in school activities was a better prevention factor of drug use than participation in sports, although students who never or seldom participated in either reported using drugs at a much higher rate.

The most alarming numbers of the study were attributed to the LAHS junior class, who presented higher rates of both alcohol and drug use then all other grade levels.

“In the past there have been certain classes that present higher-than-average results; it’s just a characteristic of that group,” Williams said. “They did get drug and alcohol awareness in health class this year – I would be really surprised if that trend continues.”

Williams also said that she will propose acquiring funding to administer versions of the Pride Survey designed for staff, faculty and parents to the school board next year, because recent national studies indicate that parents’ and teachers’ perception of students’ drug use are lower than the actual drug use being reported – a gap that needs to be consolidated.

Another component of the Pride Survey also asks students about the frequency of their “suicide ideation,” or how often they think about taking their own life.

Williams said that in the past, seventh and eighth grade girls have had higher rates of suicide ideation than all other respondents, but that increased efforts from her and the community the last four years have reduced the rates significantly.

“I got every seventh grader trained and empowered to handle that kind of situation,” she said. “Kids talk to their friends before they talk to anyone else. I thought, if we’re educating the kids, we also need to educate the staff. Every member of staff and faculty in the district now receives training on what to do and who to contact.”

The survey this year showed a 5 percent decline in suicide ideation in eighth-grade girls since 2004, and a 7 percent decline amongst ninth-grade girls.

Bernadette Lauritzen, Community Health Council coordinator, said there are future projects in the works intent on targeting middle school students, and new initiatives to educate students on the dangers of tobacco use.

“The work being done by the Community Health Council, the Family Strengths Network, Los Alamos Family Council and the DWI Council will fill some of the gaps that we see,” Lauritzen said.

A highlight of this year’s study was the senior class of 2008, which reported drinking beer at lower rates than the 21-year average for Los Alamos seniors.

“The seniors this year came out great,” Williams said.

Middle and high school students in Los Alamos County have been taking the Pride survey since 1987.