The annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed an increase in drug and alcohol use among seventh-graders but a decrease for high school students.
Emily Pelz is the Beloit school district’s executive director for student services. She said the survey is given each year in the spring. The results from the 2015-2016 school year show more students are drinking alcohol, using marijuana and going to school under the influence.
The most substantial increase was the percentage of students who had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. For 2014-15, 5.5 percent of students answered yes. In 2015-16, that percentage increased to 10.6.
There was also a slight increase in the percentage of seventh-graders who had ever used marijuana. In 2014-15, 6.7 percent of students had. That number increased to 8.6 percent in 2015-16.
For students who have ever attended school under the influence, 1.8 percent said they had in 2014-15, compared to 2.3 percent in 2015-16.
“When we saw the intermediate numbers, it wasn’t a shock or it wasn’t disappointing. It was just like, 'Oh.' Kind of like an 'Aha. Okay. Now we know what we need to do,’” Pelz said. “It was very informative to show us where we need to concentrate our work.”
Debbie Fischer is the executive director of Youth2Youth 4 Change. The group is made up of 225 student ambassadors. The older students talk to younger students to encourage them to stay away from drugs and alcohol. Currently, the topic of marijuana and alcohol isn’t introduced until students are in sixth or seventh grade.
“This is making us really look at our program and starting to realize we need to get some of that information earlier,” Fischer said.
The same survey also had some good news for the district. Alcohol and drug use at the high school level is the lowest it’s been in years.
Only 24.1 percent of high schoolers drank alcohol in the past 30 days in 2015-16, compared to 27.9 percent in 2014-15 and 29.5 percent in 2013-14.
Marijuana use dropped considerably. In 2015-16, only 14.6 percent of students had used the drug in the past 30 days, compared to 21.5 percent in 2014-15 and 22.8 percent in 2013-14.
“The teens that we're working with now have really seen the tobacco industry as somebody that's really played them and somebody that they can't trust, and now they're starting to understand that the marijuana industry is really the same,” Fischer said. “We have a group of teens that really are advocates. They really do want to see the world different.”
The percentage of students who went to school under the influence dropped to 10.1 percent in 2015-16 compared to 13.6 percent in 2014-15 and 12.9 percent in 2013-14.
Only 4 percent of students used over-the-counter drugs to get high in the past 30 days in 2015-16, compared to 5.6 percent in 2014-15 and 5 percent in 2013-14.
“When we saw the high school numbers it was like celebration, cause for celebration,” Pelz said. “Everything that we're doing is obviously making a difference.”
Pelz said the district would work with Youth2Youth to figure out how to better target seventh-graders.