New Castle News

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March 4, 2013

The kids are all right: High school survey results useful for developing local programs

NEW CASTLE — Local high school students use alcohol, cigarettes and smokeless tobacco a tad more often than teens across Pennsylvania.

There is identifiable bullying among high school students, but not a lot of gang involvement, and use of serious drugs — heroin, methamphetamine, hallucinogenics, PCP and ecstasy — in local schools is lower than average statewide.

Or so community agencies believe.

At a town hall meeting this week, the Lawrence County Prevention Coalition shared results of the Pennsylvania Youth Survey with about 50 local educators, social service providers and representatives of Lawrence County’s church and business communities.

The surveys, given every two years to students of grades eight, 10 and 12, have been taken since 2000 when only New Castle and Wilmington participated. Now six of the county’s nine high schools participated in the surveys that gauge youth perceptions of risks and protections within the community. Some sixth-graders also participate. The next is scheduled for fall 2013.

Raschelle Smith of the Lawrence County Drug and Alcohol Commission, representing the coalition, said information gleaned from the surveys is used by the coalition to develop more effective community programs.

The surveys provide a snapshot of what the students experience and perceive as risk factors, which include illicit drug and alcohol consumption, smoking, bullying, violence, gang activity and other anti-social behavior.

The survey also asks what protective factors exist in a student’s life. The participants identified strong bonds with family, school, peers and the community and identified religion as a plus. When these protective factors are present, Smith noted, there is less likelihood of drugs and delinquency, lower incidents of school dropout rates and violence and a greater likelihood of positive behavior and students less likely to engage in anti-social behaviors.

“The schools are doing a good job,” Smith said. “They give youth the opportunity to get involved and to be rewarded for it.”

She noted youngsters spend considerable time in school where they have opportunities to participate in educational, sports and after-school activities. Instances where there is a disconnect within the family, schools take that place, providing a sense of family and belonging.

Following the presentation, attendees broke up into focus groups to discuss perceived problems and solutions.

A follow-up to the session will be scheduled for late March.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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