Use of alcohol, pot by Vineyard students exceeds state-wide norm, survey finds
Click here for the complete Summary of Results from the 2004-2005 Martha's Vineyard Youth Risk Behavior Survey, Grades 6-12
Fifty-four percent of high school respondents to the Martha's Vineyard Youth Risk Behavior Survey say they had used alcohol during the 30 days prior to answering the survey question. Thirty-eight percent said they had used marijuana. Both figures for Vineyard students are significantly higher than comparable results for high school students state-wide.
These and other responses to questions concerning tobacco use, drug use, sexual activity, depression, suicide, weight concerns, fighting and bullying describe a Vineyard community of young people who generally resemble their mainland peers. In addition, compared with historical measures, the latest results suggest that Island young people may be moderating some risky behaviors. Still, the findings show alcohol and marijuana use by Island young people is greater than among mainland Massachusetts students, and that is a worrisome result for members of the Dukes County Health Council's youth task force, which administered the survey.
In other survey results, forty-four percent of the Vineyard high school students who responded said they had had intercourse during their lifetimes, including 27 percent of ninth graders, 40 percent of tenth graders, and 62 percent of seniors, a figure just a percentage point lower than the comparable result for seniors state-wide. But when they have intercourse, Vineyard young people use condoms more often than their off-Island peers do. The survey found that among sexually active Vineyard young people, 73 percent reported that they or a partner had used a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse, compared with 57 percent of students state-wide.
The youth risk survey was conducted by the youth task force in April, in collaboration with the Martha's Vineyard Public Schools and Social Science Research and Evaluation Inc. of Burlington, which compiled and analyzed the results. Task force members Mike Joyce, the retired Edgartown guidance counselor, and Jane Dreeben, a therapist, made a summary of the results available this week.
According to the task force, "The survey is one step in the Dukes County Health Council's youth task force's efforts to prepare an Island-wide assessment of community health needs. The results are expected to help community residents, agencies, and other organizations plan and evaluate programming to support young people. The information can also help parents understand the challenges that their children face and encourage them to work in planning response strategies."
Both Mr. Joyce and Ms. Dreeben emphasized that, despite the troubling issues revealed by the survey results, the goal must be to "see children as assets, rather than liabilities."
"Survey organizers," according to the task force's press statement, "stress that the results can present a skewed picture of Vineyard youth because much of the data concerns risky behaviors such as substance use and violence. It is important to emphasize the many positive aspects of adolescent life, the fact that these issues are not confined solely to youth, and that they are community issues that require the attention of all community members and organizations."
Ninety-seven percent of Vineyard middle school respondents said they were not current cigarette smokers, nor were 83 percent of high school students, although among eleventh graders, 25 percent of respondents reported smoking within 30 days of completing the survey. The state-wide figure for cigarette use among high school students is 21 percent, taken from the state's 2003 survey. Smoking among Vineyard students has declined since 2000, when a comparable survey was conducted by the school system. Then, five percent of middle schoolers and 30 percent of high school students said they smoked cigarettes. The 2005 survey results show that, while cigarette use has declined, use of cigars and smokeless tobacco is on the rise.
Alcohol and pot
"Alcohol is the most popular substance among Vineyard youth," according to a press statement which accompanied the release of the youth survey results this week, "with 11 percent of middle schoolers and over half (54 percent) of high schoolers reporting drinking alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey. Thirty-nine percent of high schoolers reported binge drinking - having five or more drinks in a row within a couple of hours - in this same timeframe, meaning that just under three quarters of high school drinkers engaged in binge drinking."
But, the news is mixed. "While high school rates of current alcohol use (54 percent, Vineyard 2005 vs. 46 percent, Mass. 2003) and current binge drinking (39 percent, Vineyard 2005 vs. 27 percent, Mass. 2003) remain above state averages, trends are promising.…" For both middle school and high school students, alcohol use has declined since 2000 - by as much as 10 percentage points for high school students - and binge drinking has declined as well.
Marijuana use is much more common than any other illegal substance and more common than cigarette smoking. Three percent of middle school students and 38 percent of high school students reported current use of marijuana (within 30 days of the survey). The high school rate for the Vineyard is 10 points higher than the state-wide rate, but the trend suggests improvement. The rate among Vineyard middle school students is down three percent since 2002, although it is higher than it was in 2000, when it was two percent. For high school students, the rate of marijuana use has declined from 44 percent in 2002, and from 43 percent in 2000.
How the survey was conducted
Students in grades six through 12 were surveyed, using a questionnaire modified to suit the middle school and high school settings. Parents could review the questionnaires in advance. The surveys were conducted during a school period set aside for the purpose. The surveys required no personal or identifying information from respondents. A total of 1,075 students completed the survey. Participation was voluntary.
Although participation was high, Social Science Research warns that, "It is important to keep in mind that the survey results can be generalized only to students who were present when the survey was administered. The results may not reflect responses that might have been obtained from students who were absent or truant on the day that the survey was administered, nor from students who have dropped out of school."
To meet a challenge
The youth task force was formed "to address challenges facing young people on Martha's Vineyard." The effort began with a community meeting on Oct. 17 at the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center, a "first step in a process of identifying issues that need to be addressed. It was attended by 57 Islanders, including students, parents, teachers, therapists, guidance counselors, administrators, members of the clergy, law enforcement, and representatives from the Brazilian and Wampanoag communities," according to a press statement released by the task force. Another forum will be held next month, coordinated by researchers at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management of Brandeis University. The Heller School group will work with the task force to develop a 10-year plan to address the issues raised by the study and by the observations of school officials and others in the community.
According the task force's press statement, the health council established the task force a year ago, when Cindy Doyle, a council member, argued that important youth health issues were not being addressed. The task force currently includes Eric Adams, director of the YMCA Teen Center; Rhonda Cohen, vice chairman of the Dukes County Health Council; Judy Crawford, chairman of the YMCA's program committee; Cindy Doyle, Dukes County Health Council and YMCA board member; Ms. Dreeben; Mr. Joyce; Brian Mackey, executive director of the Vineyard House; and Paddy Moore, president of the Foundation for Island Health.
Funding for the survey came from Cindy and Rob Doyle, the Dukes County Health Council, the Dukes County Sheriff's Department, The Farm Neck Foundation, The Permanent Endowment Fund, Martha's Vineyard Cooperative Bank, Mary and Sherif Nada, The Bank of Martha's Vineyard, Martha's Vineyard Community Services, the Edgartown Policeman's Association, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, The Edgartown School, Oak Bluffs School and the West Tisbury School.
Fighting and bullying
Students in both middle and high school were roughly twice as likely to report being in a physical fight outside of school rather than in school. Eighteen percent of middle schoolers reported such altercations in school, along with 11 percent of high school students. Outside school, 23 percent of middle school respondents reported fights, as did 26 percent of high school survey respondents. But the 2005 rates represent decreases in fighting for both middle and high school students, compared to 2000 survey results. Vineyard middle school students were more than twice as likely as high school respondents to report that they had been bullied either in or out of school in the 12 months prior to the survey. The bullying was more likely to occur in school, rather than outside school.
In general, about a third of Vineyard middle school students and half of high school respondents said their lives are stressful. But in the eleventh grade, the share of students who report they are under stress rises to 61 percent.
Vineyard high school students are slightly less likely to be depressed, compared with their state-wide counterparts, though only nine percent of respondents to the youth survey reported that they sought help for depression. Females were twice as likely as males to report depression.