Substance Abuse Findings Spur Talk of Boosting Prevention Effort

Article excerpt

A state survey that found 19 percent of sixth-graders in the Upper St. Clair School District had tried alcohol has officials wondering whether to start prevention efforts earlier.

High school Principal Michael Ghilani said though the number is slightly below the state average, he thinks expanding the district's peer mentoring program to include fifth- and sixth-graders could be a good idea.

"That's usually where the experimentation with drugs and alcohol begins," Ghilani said.

About 10 percent of Upper St. Clair sixth-graders reported trying other drugs -- consistent with the state average -- in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey. The Tribune-Review obtained the survey results through Right to Know requests.

The Commission on Crime and Delinquency will administer the Pennsylvania Youth Survey again this fall. A district's participation is voluntary, but the survey can help districts secure grant money for prevention programs and target efforts to reduce drug and alcohol use.

Upper St. Clair was one of six districts in Western Pennsylvania that participated in the survey in fall 2009, along with Monessen, New Brighton and Armstrong County's four districts. Across the state, about 35,000 students took the survey.

It asked students in grades six, eight, 10 and 12 about their own and their peers' drug and alcohol use, if they think the behavior is risky, and to gauge whether their parents and community disapprove of such behavior.

Taylor Manalo, 16, an Upper St. Clair junior, said although she doesn't think drugs and violence are a major problem at her school, mentoring programs are effective prevention tools. …