Tag Archive | "HUGS"

Sag Harbor Community Coalition Debates Accuracy of Teen Substance Abuse Survey

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By Amanda Wyatt

Two months after new statistics on drug and alcohol use among Pierson Middle/High School students sent shockwaves across Sag Harbor, the Community Coalition met last Thursday night to discuss the results of the survey which triggered such a strong reaction.

Roughly 20 citizens gathered in the Pierson Middle/High School library for the third Community Coalition on the evening of September 27. While other items were on the agenda, the coalition devoted the span of the meeting to addressing the Youth Development Survey (YDS).

The YDS, which was administered to 339 Sag Harbor students in grades seven through 12 in December 2010, was part of a larger effort by the New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to look at substance use and other “problem behaviors” among students.

At last week’s meeting, Kym Laube, director of the Westhampton Beach-based organization HUGS, Inc. (Human Understanding and Growth Seminars), presented a summary of the YDS data. Before handing out hard copies of the data, she stressed the survey does not provide a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.

“I caution that this is one data point in beginning to take a look at your community,” said Laube, noting that it does not paint a complete picture of Sag Harbor students.

The merits of the survey have been hotly debated, with some residents questioning the accuracy of the survey and suggesting that numbers of drug and alcohol use were inflated.

According to Laube and Pamela Mizzi of the Suffolk County Prevention Resource Center, the survey used a number of data controls, including a question about a fake drug. If any student indicated they had used the imaginary drug, the survey was omitted.

Researchers also tossed surveys that appeared “extreme,” had conflicting answers and/or included doodles.

Principal Jeff Nichols estimated 400 students probably took the survey and that roughly 60 surveys were omitted for various reasons.

Still, the accuracy of the survey continued to be questioned by some. Dr. John Oppenheimer said that in the 30 years he had been practicing medicine he had become “more and more cynical” about data collection.

“I don’t think it’s unique to Sag Harbor,” he said.  “The point is that there’s a problem.”

“I agree with John that whether it’s five percent or 22 percent, it’s a problem and it needs to be addressed,” added Allison Scanlon, a North Haven parent and founder of Hamptons Youth Sports.

For Police Chief Tom Fabiano, the survey was “a stepping stone.” He mentioned that Sag Harbor could use the data as a tool for identifying the problems in the community and looking at what other communities are doing that is effective.

At the same time, Laube noted, “Time and time again, no matter how [researchers] have done this, they’ve found that it’s accurate information.”

Laube said the data was consistent, although Pierson students ranked higher or lower than their county, town and nationwide counterparts on certain questions.

For example, no Pierson eighth grader had reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to eight percent nationally. Only two percent of Pierson eighth graders had used tobacco in the past 30 days, lower than six percent nationally.

However, Pierson students generally reported greater use of alcohol than their counterparts in Southampton Town, Suffolk County and in the nation.

For example, 77 percent of Pierson seniors reported using alcohol in the past 30 days, compared to 57 percent in the county and 41 percent nationally. And while 22 percent of 11th and 12th graders reported binge drinking nationally, 41 percent of Pierson juniors and seniors reported they binge drank.

Community Coalition participant Helen Atkinson-Barnes suggested the coalition take a “pro-social messaging” approach to dealing with the data. For instance, rather than reporting 39 percent of eighth graders have had at least one alcoholic drink in their lifetime, the coalition could focus on the 61 percent who have never consumed alcohol.

The discussion on drugs and alcohol will continue at the next Community Coalition meeting, which is scheduled for October 18 at 5:45 PM.

School Makes Community-wide Coalition to Curb Substance Abuse

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By Claire Walla

Sometimes it takes a catastrophic event to incite change. For the William Floyd School District in 2009, it took the loss of one of its star athletes — who died of a heroine overdose — for the school to finally crack-down on substance abuse.

Here in Sag Harbor, however, administrators and school board members are taking measures to make sure it never comes to that.

At the end of this month, a collection of administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and school board members will come together to begin planning a coalition made up of school personnel and community members aimed at preventing substance abuse in the district.

“The goal is to bring together the entire community, all the stakeholders,” said school board president Mary Anne Miller. The philosophy behind this approach is that alcohol and drug abuse are not problems that are in any way limited to the school’s purview, even if situations unfold on school grounds — this is a community issue.

Miller said the purpose of this month’s meeting is to decide who in the community the coalition should reach out to. Ideally, Miller added, the coalition will be comprised of a wide swathe of people, from law enforcement officials, to medical personnel, clergy members and even business owners.

“It’s a commitment [for everyone involved],” Miller admitted. “But these are the people who are going to go and create this culture change, and push it beyond the school doors.”

The seeds of this coalition were planted last spring when the school district banded together with the state-run Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to put together a comprehensive survey for all students, grades 7 through 12.

While not nearly as drastic a situation as they were up against at William Floyd, Miller said the results of that survey — which the district finally received in December — showed that alcohol and marijuana use are prevalent among teens in the district. But rather than stop at those results, Miller said one of the greatest benefits of the OASAS program is that it gives the school district access to drug-prevention professionals and counselors across Long Island and the state.

Pierson Middle/High School Principal Jeff Nichols said school officials already held a meeting with Kym Laube of Human Growth and Understanding Seminars (HUGS) earlier this year to begin fleshing out plans for the coalition. Nichols said Laube has most recently worked with the Westhampton school community to organize a similar community endeavor.

The Westhampton school district has already taken efforts to better bolster the relationship between its students and the community at large. For example, Nichols explained, the district set-up an “alcohol-free zone” at last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

But, as Miller explained, coalitions in different communities will all operate a little differently.

“Some towns have asked all restaurants and bars to post signs and make the commitment not to sell alcohol to minors,” she explained.

Once Sag Harbor’s stakeholders are involved, she added, “the coalition will sort of take on a life of its own.”

The bottom line, as Miller sees it, is that the best way to combat substance abuse is to take a look at the bigger picture.

“It’s not just about risky behavior, it’s about a risky environment,” she said. “You have to look at what you’re doing in the school [to foster] the home/school connection. Do students feel connected to the school? Do parents feel connected to the school?”

And the big question: “Are we providing enough low-risk environments to prevent high-risk behaviors?”