Study: More students engaging in risky behaviors

MCT illustration The New Mexico Health and Public Education department’s Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey shows Curry County students are having sex, using alcohol and marijuana and attempting suicide at sometimes much higher rates than the state average.

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

A new study shows Curry County students are having sex, using alcohol and marijuana and attempting suicide at sometimes much higher rates than the state average.

The same study also shows a decline in the use of harder illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and inhalants.

The findings are part of the New Mexico Health and Public Education department’s Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey. And, it has Clovis school health officers calling for community-wide involvement to address the issues.

“It’s a valuable tool,” Rhonda Sparks, director of health services for Clovis Municipal Schools system, said of the latest findings.

Sparks noted results reflect “the thoughts and feelings of students on a specific day in time.”

“But,” Sparks cautioned, “it’s not fact. It tells us about trends and issues kids are thinking about and what we need to ask about.”

Some 69 percent — more than two-thirds of students in grades nine through 12 — participated in the anonymous survey. Of those Clovis students, some 46.3 percent said they engaged in sexual activity — a result that is 14.8 percent higher than the state average of 31.5 percent.

Sparks said while students are reporting engaging in sexual activity earlier and earlier, the reasons why can’t be defined.

“What we do know is that families are more and more fragmented. Everyone wants to belong to someone or some group,” she said.

Sparks said there is state-mandated content for health and mental health issues infused across CMS’ cirriculum. Health issues ranging from hand sanitation to sexual misconduct and body and reproductive health are spread across the curriculum, some taught solely by nurses and others are worked directly into a health or science class lesson. Sparks said there is no class in place teaching safe sex practices.

The survey reports that marijuana use among youth in Curry County has gone up from 22 percent in 2005 to 26.4 percent in 2007, but that use of other drugs has gone down.

Sparks guessed that students use marijuana more often because it is more readily available, but that national data says that students don’t need access to illegal drugs.

“(Drugs are) available at home in their medicine cabinets,” she said.

“The social issues brought to school are just that, social issues. We’re charged with reading and writing, so we incorporate the rest across our curriculum,” she said.

Sparks and Glynnis Maes, coordinator of mental health services for the Clovis schools system, said the survey should be used as a tool to look forward.

“We should look at what do we need to do as a community to get resources for the families and kids,” Maes said.

“The results have served as a community awakening,” Sparks said. “The data has lent itself to action planning by letting us know what to work on.”

Sparks and Maes agreed that approaching solutions for what the results say should be a partnership between families, churches and the community.

“Every child is at risk for something,” Sparks said. “We can’t do it alone.”

Sparks said one of the first steps to address the issues raised in the survey is to do a community evaluation of what services the community and the school have available.

“The problem is that they don’t know what we’re doing and we don’t know what they’re doing,” she said. “There are a myriad of services available after something is an issue. The sad news is we don’t have a lot of preventative measures in place in our community.”