The West Chester Area School District recently participated in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey that tracks drug, alcohol and tobacco use in the school district.
According to the survey results over 50 percent of district seniors reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, and over 30 percent admitted to participating in binge drinking, which is defined as drinking with the intention to get drunk.
“The survey is taken every two years,” said district Director of Pupil Services Dr. Leigh Ann Ranieri. “It helps us to know what’s going on out there. It helps identify what programs need to be implemented in order to intervene.”
The PAY report anonymously surveys all district students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12. In total, over 3,000 students are asked 108 questions.
The district then uses that information to set programs, but they can also use it to apply fro grants.
“The information is used by a lot of the community,” said Casey Yarnell who works for the district as a Pupil Services Specialists. “We work with a lot of outside organizations that help us deal with a lot of the issues.”
Alcohol use is far and away the most prevalent substance used by the surveyed students with 2.7 percent of sixth graders having reported using alcohol in the last 30 days.
That number jumps from 10.6 percent in eighth grade to 27.9 percent in 10th and finally 51.9 percent in 12th.
“Obviously we see the largest jump in seniors,” Yarnell said. “They have a lot more freedom than are younger students.”
Binge drinking follows a similar trend with just 0.5 percent of sixth graders admitting to binge drinking in the past 30 days. That number jumps to three percent for eighth graders, 13.9 percent for 10th graders and 32.6 percent for district seniors.
But Dr. Ranieri says that the district has had a lot of success by using the data and promoting the things students aren’t doing.
“We look at the data, and yes, we have a five percent increase in some areas,” Ranieri said. “But we also have information that shows that seven out of 10 of our students aren’t drinking.”
Ranieri added, “So, we’ve started a social norms campaign.”
Ranieri is referring to the district’s “Stay Classy, Stay Sober” Campaign, which tries to shift the conversation on underage drinking.
Basically the accepted status quo in high school is that everyone drinks, and that by not drinking you are somehow “not normal.” The “Stay Classy, Stay Sober” campaign tries to invert that social norm.
Essentially, not everyone drinks, in fact, only 30 percent drink.
“We take the data and flip it to show what kids aren’t doing,” Ranieri said.
The West Chester School District was above statewide averages for alcohol and binge drinking, but it was below state averages for cigarette and smokeless tobacco use.
The district was also above state averages for marijuana use and non-medical use of prescription drugs.