To the editor:
The prevention of youth substance use is a community effort; to that end the Tiverton Prevention Coalition, Tiverton School Department, Tiverton Police Department and many community organizations including local churches combine efforts to ensure safe, responsible and healthy decision making among Tiverton’s youth.
Understanding youth substance use rates is more complicated than a quick look at survey results. A recent article in a local news site indicated higher than average youth substance use in Tiverton. The fact is those reported results were based on six middle school questions and 10 high school questions on a Dept. of Education Survey about education. There were no validation questions to check for truthfulness or even to determine if the questions were understood by the survey takers. The survey results were compiled statewide ranking community against community; in many cases the difference between communities of highest and lowest use was a few percentage points.
When the Coalition gathers data, great care is taken to ensure that the survey responses are validated by asking questions in a number of ways to check for inconsistencies in the answers provided. Youth survey results are then confirmed further through interviews with individuals, both adult and youth, to look more deeply at the attitudes and beliefs that exist about substance use within the community. Youth focus groups are held where questions are asked to determine if evidence exists that supports the survey results and key informant interviews. Once collected that data is combined with police reports and school disciplinary and behavior data. The results are a clear picture of youth substance use in our community at a given time.
The honesty of young people is often called into question in regard to taking surveys or participating in focus groups. Remarkably, research has shown in study after study that when anonymity and confidentiality are ensured youth are extremely honest. Evidence of that truthfulness exists within the evaluations done overtime within the Tiverton Coalition. Our data shows a level of consistency year to year and when compared to state averages.
If young people were untruthful as many assume, the measurements would vary more widely and trends would be difficult to detect. Additionally, there is a marked perception among youth that their peers are not being truthful. On the 2013 Tiverton Coalition Survey, 97 percent of students reported answering the questions truthfully, though when asked about their peers they stated that their perception was that 48 percent of their peers provided honest answers.
With all the focus on youth use rates, what is missing is a discussion of the community efforts that are ensuring that our youth rates are trending in the right direction. Tiverton employs multiple strategies to ensure healthy choices by our young people. The Drug Free Communities Grant administered by the Tiverton Prevention Coalition over the past two years has supported a parent education series including four well-attended presentations by experts in the field of prevention, monthly E-Newsletters to keep families and communities members informed, two town hall style community meetings on underage drinking and marijuana use, Life Skills prevention curriculum for all ninth graders at THS, Project Alert prevention curriculum for sixth graders and follow up with seventh graders, and the services of a student assistance counselor at the High and Middle schools.
The High School is in its second year of a youth driven project to reduce marijuana use titled “UnMarketing Weed.(UMW).” The Coalition launched UMW as an new extracurricular program at THS, where students created an in-school prevention campaign to correct the false perception that marijuana is safe. The students also presented their posters at a legislative briefing at the RI State House. The UMW students are currently developing a guide for parents about what teens want parents to know about marijuana use. The guidebook will be professionally published and distributed at a prevention presentation in spring 2014.
The Tiverton Prevention Coalition and Tiverton School Department stands united and prepared to continue our partnership in the best interest of our students; we are proud of our successes and stand ready address substance use issues as they arise.
Director, Tiverton Prevention Coalition
Principal, Tiverton Middle School
Principal, Tiverton High School