Alcohol is the most commonly used drug among students in the ABC Unified School District, with more than 45% of seventh-graders reporting that they drank beer at least once in a six-month period and 4% reporting drinking weekly or more frequently, according to survey results released this week.
By their junior year in high school, 22% of the ABC students in the survey said they had tried cocaine.
School officials said the survey, conducted by Rodney Skager, dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education, indicates that ABC district students are pretty much like their counterparts statewide.
Compared to State Usage
The survey showed that ABC seventh-grade students' involvement with drugs was slightly higher when compared to statewide usage, ninth-grade usage slightly lower and 11th-grade usage mixed, said Tom Martin, district supervisor of research, planning and evaluation.
"We think the survey is pretty accurate. It was random. Assured anonymity. Those answers that seemed unrealistic or inflated were thrown out," Martin said.
"The results are no different than the state and other parts of the country," said Kenneth L. Moffett, superintendent of the 22,000-student district.
Moffett said, however, that the initial reaction "is shock. Then we need to get busy to try to solve the problem."
The ABC survey, made public Monday at a Board of Education meeting at district headquarters in Cerritos, was conducted in May among a samling of 1,062 seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade students in 10 schools. The survey was voluntary and anonymity was guaranteed. The school district paid $5,000 for the survey.
Results show "that a problem exists. It is pretty devastating at first. But I'm glad we did the survey. Now we can get busy doing some positive things," said Julie Hanson, a parent and chairman of the district's substance abuse committee.
Initially, "it hits you like a punch in the stomach," agreed board member Dianne Xitco, who has been active in school and community efforts to combat drugs. "Once the sore is open you get busy trying to heal it."
The survey of students found:
- Use of wine and hard liquor was less than that of beer but more than marijuana. Twenty-four percent of seventh-graders said they had used liquor at least once in a six-month period, compared to 38% for ninth-graders and 55% for 11th-graders. By age 16 most ABC students surveyed said they had been intoxicated from alcohol. A statewide survey conducted in April by Skager said that more than half of California's high school juniors have experimented with drugs and 85% have tried alcohol.
- After alcohol, marijuana is the most frequently used drug. Twelve percent of seventh-graders, 22% of ninth-graders and 42% of 11th-graders reported using marijuana at least once.
- Cocaine ranked next behind marijuana. Six percent of seventh-graders, 5% of ninth-graders and 22% of 11th-grade students reported using cocaine at least once.
Moffett said the school district is beginning a series of programs to fight drug abuse.
More than 80 staff members, including psychologists, teachers and nurses, will undergo a five-day intensive substance abuse training session on how to deal with student drug problems, Moffett said.
After the session, which will begin Oct. 27, the staff will "come back with recommendations and how to implement them," Moffett said. Part of those recommendations will cover ways to involve and better inform parents, Moffett said. One idea, he said, is putting information about substance abuse on the back of weekly lunch menus and in school newsletters, Moffett said.
Lower Grades Included
Current classroom drug programs will be expanded in the spring semester. As an example, classroom drug programs now taught to fourth-, fifth-, seventh- and 10th-graders will be expanded to include kindergarten and first, second and sixth grades, Moffett said.
In addition, the district will ask cities served by it to help support an effort to bring the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Prevention Education Unit into the ABC schools, Moffett said.
Normally, the sheriff's drug education service would be free if the district were located in unincorporated county area, but because the cities served by the district are incorporated, they must pay a fee for the service, Moffett said.
The 29-school district serves Cerritos, Artesia, Hawaiian Gardens and parts of Lakewood, Norwalk and Long Beach. The area ranges from low- to moderate- and upper-middle class.