The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 6, 2009

CCHS survey reveals trends in risk behavior

“A vast number of students at [Concord-Carlisle Regional High School] CCHS are making good choices and very healthy decisions,” reassured Principal Peter Badalament at the January 27 Regional School Committee (RSC) meeting before he and Concord K-12 Health Coordinator Kathy Bowen began a discussion of the fifth Youth Risk Behavior Survey results.

Last March, a large majority (1,143) of CCHS students in grades 9-12 took the most recent version of the risk survey that has been given every other year for the last ten years. Students answered questions concerning safety, violence, suicide, tobacco use, alcohol use, drug use, gambling, HIV/AIDS education, sexual behavior, dietary behavior and physical activity. Bowen said, “This data is used to put initiatives in place to help bring the statistics down and protect our children.”

The nearby towns of Acton, Boxboro, Westford, Littleton, Maynard, Groton and Dunstable also participate in the survey, which is supported by Emerson Hospital. CCHS students made up roughly 20% of the total number of participating high school students. Students in sixth and eighth grades also took the survey. The final report is available from the high school. In it, results are compared with previous years’ data and with a similar state-wide survey of high school youth from the spring of 2007 that was carried out by the Massachusetts Department of Education.

For almost every category of behavior studied, CCHS students reported better risk avoidance than teens state-wide. However, the grade 9-12 aggregate results were roughly comparable to CCHS, with other towns’ teens reporting less alcohol and marijuana use.

Alcohol use

CCHS grades 9-12 tied the state average in recent alcohol use, and exceeded the state in binge drinking. Of CCHS students in grades 9-12, 29% reported binge drinking in the past month, compared to 28% state-wide. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks in a few hours.

“Alcohol is the drug of choice,” said Badalament. “Three quarters of the kids report drinking alcohol, half of them report drinking in the last month and a quarter of them report binge drinking. Over 40% of the senior class reported binge drinking.”

CCHS students out-drank those in the other towns at every grade level. The number of seniors who reported they had ever had an alcoholic drink was 87%; compared with 80% of seniors in the aggregate of participating area towns. Across the four grades at CCHS, 46% said they had an alcoholic drink in the last 30 days, while the aggregate value was 38%. The number of students who said they had ridden with an impaired driver has been steadily rising from 19% in 2002 to 25% in 2008.

Badalament found it disturbing that one out of three had attended parties in homes in the last 12 months where alcohol use by teens was allowed. “This is a fairly significant issue for this community. What are we modeling for our kids?” RSC members discussed the fact that it is illegal for teens to be drinking in other people’s homes.


Seventeen percent of CCHS freshmen say they have intentionally cut, burned or bruised themselves in the past 12 months. The combined data for grades 9 - 12 shows that 19% of females and 9% of males report self-injury. Bowen stated that self-injury numbers went up 2% since the last survey. Also, self-injury for boys was growing and she was not sure what was causing that. McGinn wondered if the students showing risky behaviors are self-medicating to contend with the stress and the competitive environment at the high school.

Bullying on the rise

Another concern was the amount of bullying students reported, which was higher than the aggregate and higher (19%) in 2008 than it had been in 2000 (14%). These statistics surprised Badalament. “It would seem that our students treat each other very well… We spend time in the Guidance Department helping students resolve conflicts they are having with one another.” He concluded that there is a lot of bullying over cyberspace and the school is educating kids about bullying and what to do about it.

Illegal drug use

In 2008, 23% of CCHS students said they had been offered, sold or given illegal drugs on school property in the past 12 months. Although this number has dropped from 30% in 2000, Badalament said the number is still higher than the aggregate, but lower than the state average. He pointed out that CCHS used to have two campus monitors, but one was cut due to budget constraints. He compared that to Acton-Boxboro where there are 13 monitors and they drive around in golf carts.

The report showed 37% of CCHS students have ever tried marijuana. Although this number is lower than in 2000 (at 41%) and 2002 (at 44%), it is still higher than the aggregate at 32% across grades 9 through 12. Marijuana use by CCHS students over the last 30 days was in line with the aggregate data.

Cigarette use drops

Cigarette smoking is down. Badalament was happy with this statistic, saying, “Cigarettes are truly the gateway to other drugs. They lead to other risky behaviors.” In 2000, 47% of students said they had tried smoking, compared to 28% that said they had tried smoking in 2008. In 2000, 21% of students said they had a smoke in the last 30 days, compared to 11% in 2008. ∆

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