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Kids smoke more, drink less Kids smoke more, drink less


Alcohol use among kids in the Bismarck region is on the decline, while more students are lighting up, according to the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Area ninth- and 10th-graders showed the biggest decline in alcohol use, with more than 10 percent decreases in various categories. Students in 11th and 12th grades averaged a 4 percent decrease in the same categories. Ninth-grade students were the only group that showed a dropoff in smoking. The numbers are from the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which asked more than 11,400 junior high and high school students about their behavior in a variety of health issues, ranging from alcohol and drug use to dietary habits, violence and sex. The federal government developed the survey as a way to track youth risk behavior. The results were broken down into eight regions, including the Bismarck region, which includes McLean, Sheridan, Kidder, Burleigh, Emmons, Sioux, Grant, Morton, Oliver and Mercer counties. Department of Public Instruction school health coordinator Nicole Wright said that when numbers show a decline over a length of time, it indicates that real change has taken place. Bismarck administrators attributed the decrease to new programs adopted over the last three years to combat a drinking average that historically has surpassed the national average. Students in Mandan Public Schools didn't take the survey. "If there is one person that's illegal and using, that's one person too many," said Dotti Schmeling, a counselor at Simle Middle School. "So we are looking to make sure we have zero percent using." Century High School made decreasing alcohol and drug use among students a goal in its accreditation process two years ago. Officials developed a three-part program that focuses on students, parents and substance-free activities. The program came in response to the 2001 risk behavior survey, said Lee Ziegler, CHS assistant principal. So far, officials at CHS have met with students to develop additional prevention programs while developing activities for students at night, including comic relief and movie nights, dances and eclipse ball tournaments. In addition, officials have worked with parents to raise their awareness of the problem. Mailings have gone out, giving parents ideas on how to help their kids make good decisions. CHS and Bismarck High School sent a letter to parents to sign and pledge their house as tobacco and alcohol free. Those will be compiled and put into a phone book that will be sent to all parents. "We are hoping if even one student says, 'No, I am not going to drink tonight. I am going to a student activity,' that is a moral victory," Ziegler said. "If we can start to see those numbers go down and see positive things out of that, that's what our intent is. We want to teach them there are other things to do besides drinking and doing drugs." BHS started a Drug Night for parents last year in which they can ask representatives from places such as Youth Correctional Center and the Heartview Foundation questions about drug and alcohol use. It also set up Talk Nights for students, parents and community members that focused on youth drug and alcohol abuse. BHS principal Tom Hesford said between 200 and 400 people have shown up for the events. "We have been aware for some time there has been more use and abuse going on," Hesford said. "We've been painfully aware. If you go and look at any TV program or go to any movie for kids and all of them endorse alcohol use and kids grow up thinking it's a rite of passage. So often we hear them saying, 'We're just being kids.' " At the middle school level, counselors and administrators said they also have seen an increased push for alcohol, drug and tobacco prevention programs in the last two or three years. A few years ago, Simle, Horizon and Wachter Middle School implemented Life Skills, a program that gives students skills to deal with the issues life presents them with. It includes units on self image, decision making, coping with anger, violence in the media, assertiveness, conflict resolution, making decisions, smoking, marijuana and alcohol. The middle schools also have tobacco prevention programs that are funded by tobacco settlement money. All three added a Students Against Destructive Behavior program in the last three years, officials said. It is put on by students who do activities throughout their school and community to promote drug and alcohol free lifestyles. After-school programs at the elementary and middle school level also are offered this year from grants the district applied for because of numbers from the 2001 risk behavior survey, said Paul Johnson, Bismarck superintendent. Those programs give kids a place to go before and after school until their parents come home. "There is a greater awareness on the part of society," Johnson said. "That is contributing to better programming in schools and school districts and there's money available for that programming."

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