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Survey: Marijuana use on the rise among Saratoga Springs students

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Albany/HV: Survey: Marijuana use on the rise among Saratoga Springs students
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As they've been every other year for more than a decade, students and parents at the Saratoga Springs School District were surveyed about drug and alcohol use. As YNN's Matt Hunter explains, their responses about marijuana have given administrators cause for concern.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – "Whenever we're going up, that's a problem,” Saratoga Springs School District Superintendent Mike Piccirillo said.

"Especially when you see it go up in every single grade level,” said Heath Kisselback, executive director of the Parent Council. “Then you realize it's a trend."

Since they began surveying local students and parents about drug and alcohol use more than a decade ago, the Prevention Council has found the numbers have mostly improved year to year. That's why this year's survey, which suggests a two to four percent boost in marijuana use among all grade levels, is so alarming.

"It makes you think what's going on out in the community, what's happening in terms of the student culture?" Piccirillo said Wednesday.

"It's not a huge rate, but it's enough to make you look at why?" Kisselback said.

According to the student responses, roughly 28 percent of seniors admitted to smoking marijuana within the 30 days prior to the survey. Numbers were generally a few points lower for each preceding grade level.

One theory, possibly explaining the rise in marijuana use, is that the legalization of the drug in other states, both for recreational and medical use, has given adolescents the impression it's safe.

"[They think] that it's okay and that it's safe and a natural plant,” Kisselback said. “The things they're [students] getting are not natural by any means."

Another key area of concern is perception.

While district seniors tend to believe more than two-thirds of their peers smoke, more than double the actual rate, parents tend to underestimate by similar margins.

Educators believe promoting the correct statistics can help ease peer pressure.

"I think that might help in educate kids,” Piccirillo said. “‘Wait a minute, I don't have to do this, it's not really as prevalent as I think it is.’"

Of course, educators and experts agree the real key is partnering with parents. The hope is a strong, consistent message from all directions will help reverse the trend back in the right direction.

"Our kids tell us repeatedly in every survey, in every school district, if the message is strong and clear from home, they are less likely to use," Kisselback said.

"I think we just need to reinforce what we've been doing and reinvigorate our approach to it and make sure we're covering all of our bases as we move forward," Piccirillo said.

The Prevention Council surveys parents and teachers at other Saratoga County Districts as well. According to Kisselback, Saratoga’s results are only slightly above the national average and mostly in line with local trends.

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