Pubdate: Fri, 20 Oct 2006
Source: Columbia Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2006 Columbia Missourian
Author: Jennifer Gauthier and Jake Siegel
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)
Bookmark: (Youth)


A Statewide Survey Shows That Drug Use Often Begins Before High School

In January, the Columbia School Board will hear from  the district's 
Substance Abuse Task Force on how to  better combat drug and alcohol 
use in public schools.

Right now the task force is analyzing statistics on  drug use and 
talking with students to determine what  steps should be taken. On 
Thursday, Leslie Trogdon,  director of school improvement for the 
Columbia Public  School District, talked to the board about the 2006 
Safe and Drug Free Survey. Conducted by the Missouri  Department of 
Elementary and Secondary Education, the  survey looks at reported 
drug and alcohol use by ninth-  through 12th-graders in public 
schools statewide.

Trogdon presented the Columbia data as it compares to  the rest of 
the state. For example, 11.1 percent of  Columbia students said they 
have smoked marijuana more  than 40 times, versus the statewide 
average of 4.1  percent. Another statistic from the survey shows 
that  19.2 percent of Columbia students have tried an illegal  drug, 
compared with 9.6 percent statewide.

The data suggests that experimentation with drugs and  alcohol begins 
before students reach high school,  Trogdon said.

"The focus on high school helps, but it starts in  middle school," 
said Donald Ludwig, the board's vice  president, referring to the survey.

Officer John Warner of the Columbia Police Department  pointed to the 
"big change in social structure" that  happens when students start 
middle school in sixth  grade.

"They're given more freedom and opportunity," Warner said.

Warner, who participates in the Drug Abuse Resistance  Education 
program, which educates fifth-graders about  drugs, said drug use has 
nothing to do with  intelligence and everything to do with what he 
calls  E.Q., or "emotional quotient."

"(At that age) they don't have the life experience to  make those 
decisions," Warner said.

The board discussed the need for additional drug  prevention programs 
beyond DARE, which consists of a  one-hour lesson per week for 10 
weeks. Member David  Ballenger urged the board to look at the cost of 
adding  school resource officers to middle and junior high  schools, 
with the idea of expanding their presence;  among their duties, the 
officers teach drug and alcohol  prevention.

"We know it's working," Ballenger said, "And I think it  would have an impact."

Warner agreed, saying an increase in the number of  resource officers 
would be a good thing. He brought  examples of items students can use 
to bring drugs into  schools, including water and soda bottles with 
false  bottoms that can be used to stash marijuana and a  highlighter 
pen that can double as a pipe. These items  can be purchased locally, 
Warner said.

He showed how easily five grams of marijuana fit into  the fake water bottle.

In Columbia, possession of 35 grams of marijuana or  less is a misdemeanor.

"That's the most ridiculous law in the community,"  Ludwig said. 
"This community has to decide; it can't be  the schools doing it alone."

Board president Karla DeSpain shared discussions she  had with 
students at Hickman and Rock Bridge high  schools. She said that 
students said they know where to  get drugs if they want them but 
that an overwhelming  number of students said they can stay away from 
drugs if they choose.

The school board formed the task force to look at  what's happening 
in the district and make  recommendations.

"We still have some things to learn," said Assistant  Superintendent 
Lynn Barnett, who leads the task force.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman