About 60% of Staples High School seniors drink regularly. A quarter use marijuana. The same number vape — mostly THC.
Those are some of the headline-grabbing statistics announced this week by the Westport Prevention Coalition. Working with the Search Institute, Westport Department of Human Services and Positive Directions, they conducted an anonymous survey of 800 7th through 12 graders in April.
In addition to substance use, questions covered developmental relationships, COVID stress and racial justice.
Results were presented at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Yesterday afternoon, Westport public schools coordinator of psychological services Dr. Valerie Babich and Positive Directions prevention director Margaret Watt did a deeper dive into the statistics, on a Zoom call with Westport educators, youth workers, social service providers and students.
The bulk of the discussion involved the substance use findings. The survey asked about behaviors in the preceding 30 days. Teenagers were still wearing masks and supposed to be socially distanced; COVID continued to limit some of their interactions.
Nonetheless, 60% of Staples seniors had had “more than a few sips” of beer in the previous month. For 7th graders, the number was 9%. It rose steadily, most noticeably starting in sophomore year.
Taken together, the 33% total of high school students who drank in the previous 30 days — during COVID — was higher than the Connecticut average in a survey conducted in 2019, before the pandemic.
Marijuana use and vaping begins around 9th grade. It rises in tandem over the years, peaking at 24% (marijuana) and 25% (vaping) by senior year.
Of the students who knew what they were vaping, 2/3 used THC; 1/3 used nicotine. In addition, 28% used multiple substances. But 13% did not know what they were inhaling.
Interestingly, tobacco and prescription drug misuse was virtually non-existent: 0 to 2% in all grades.
As students get older, they reported, their parents’ disapproval of certain substances goes down. By senior year, only 63% of students said that their parents disapprove of marijuana.
In terms of perceived harm, 78% of high school students think that 5 or more drinks at a time, once or twice a week, is harmful. That means 22% do not believe it is bad.
81% of high school students think vaping is harmful.
In 7th grade, 74% of students surveyed thought that marijuana is harmful. By 12th grade, the number dropped to 34%.
COVID had a strong impact on Westport youth. More than half of students surveyed took steps to resolve pandemic-related problems. The majority said they accepted the reality of the new situation. However, only 34% reached out to others to talk about how they were feeling.
58% of the students felt connected to school staff. A whopping 94% said they felt connected to friends.
Questions about developmental relationships with teachers revealed “moderate to high” responses. Students felt that they were challenged to grow, provided support, and expanded their possibilities.
Areas for improvement included inspiring possibilities for the future, exposure to new ideas, and introduction to people who could help them grow.
The final section revealed that 3/4 believe they have a role to play in ending racial injustice. A clear majority are aware of the impact of their own words and actions, in the social justice arena.
Data will be reviewed with school administrators, staff, mental health professionals and students. The Westport Prevention Coalition will then determine how best to turn the findings into solutions.