Clinton TownshipJuly 5, 2012
Chippewa Valley officials adjust strategy on marijuana
By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer
CLINTON TOWNSHIP — There were some surprises for Charlene McGunn in Chippewa Valley Schools’ 2012 Michigan Profile for Healthy Youth drug survey results.
First, more high school students viewed drinking alcohol as risky and looked more negatively on their peers who drank than they did four years ago.
“I was surprised, but not too surprised, because we had focused so much on educating students and parents on alcohol use,” said McGunn, the executive director of the Chippewa Valley Coalition for Youths and Families.
But a less welcome surprise from the survey showed that fewer Chippewa Valley students saw marijuana use as risky and fewer looked negatively on their peers for using it. This, McGunn said, is dangerous because high school students are peer driven.
To combat the trend, the coalition is looking this summer to revamp its programs on educating parents and students on the perils of pot use, much like it did with alcohol four years ago.
“We’re not distracting our efforts with other drugs, but intensifying our focus on marijuana,” McGunn said.
In 2008, the coalition administered a computerized survey to the district’s seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders.
The survey was anonymous and asked the students such questions as if they used drugs within the last 30 days, what was their perception of various drugs and what was their perception of peers that used the same drug.
“It’s just important data to collect because how do we know how to help our students with whatever the issues might be if we don’t have data on it?” said Superintendent Ronald Roberts at the June 18 board meeting, where the survey results were first announced.
In 2010 and 2012, the coalition administered the same survey to seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders in those years. Though this year’s results showed less alcohol use, the survey showed that 80 percent of seventh-grade students viewed the usage of marijuana as risky, a decrease of 4 percent from 2008.
The change was greater in high school, with 75 percent of freshmen viewing marijuana use as risky in 2012, compared with 84 percent in 2008, and 62 percent of juniors, compared with 75 percent in 2008.
The reasons for the shift comes from various influences like the use of marijuana in movies to its legalization for medicinal purposes in Michigan in 2008.
“The medical marijuana law is confusing the students,” McGunn said. “They think it is a harmless drug, but it is not a harmless drug.”
Stephanie Lange, the student assistance specialist at Dakota High School, said sometimes the drug-use perception fight can seem like a losing battle against deep-pocketed advertising campaigns calling for the full legalization of marijuana.
“They have much more money than any preventive organization has,” she said. “In that way, it’s frustrating. It’s so sad to see the path some of these students take. You know that it’s bad information that led them down that path.”
McGunn, Lange and others will meet several times over the summer with the coalition to formulate a new game plan to address the issue.
“It takes a broad-based strategy,” McGunn said. “I think that if we use the same method we did with tobacco use and with alcohol use, we should see some change.”
Coalition members said they plan to attack the perception problem on several fronts, incorporating both parents and students into the solution.
Much like they hosted forums educating parents on how to address alcohol issues with their children, coalition members will educate parents on what to say to their children about marijuana and what to do if they suspect their child is using marijuana.
Still, that strategy is limited because the parents who come to events hosted by the district usually are doing the right thing at home already, Lange said. “They’re just looking for validation,” she said.
With that in mind, its important for the school to inform students directly at school, telling them that drug use among students is not that common despite a perceived notion otherwise.
“Among 30 students, you’ll have two or three that are using drugs,” Lange said.
Those students, she said, come into school and brag about their weekend high. “We call the (students using drugs) Monday motor-mouths.” Meanwhile, students who had normal weekends don’t brag about their normal weekend, Lange said, creating the incorrect perception that everyone else is doing drugs over the weekend.
“We try to teach the kids that the information is very skewed,” Lange said. “Not many kids use.”
As much as an uphill battle the fight may seem, the same strategy is seemingly working when it comes to Chippewa Valley students and alcohol use.
With those positive results, McGunn said she is optimistic the revamped classes geared toward marijuana use will have the same effect, and in two years, when the next survey is taken, the numbers will hopefully reflect it.
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