Fairfield school survey shows messages on drug prevention, racial injustice are getting across

Fairfield Ludlowe High School students arrive for the first day of school for Fairfield Public Schools in Fairfield, Conn., on Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020.

Fairfield Ludlowe High School students arrive for the first day of school for Fairfield Public Schools in Fairfield, Conn., on Tuesday Sept. 8, 2020.

Christian Abraham / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — This year’s student body reported less alcohol and substance use than the previous year and expressed optimism that they can have an active voice in ending racial injustice, according to a recent survey administered by the Fairfield CARES Community Coalition.

The coalition administered a school climate survey to those in grades seven through 12 to gather information on how the students were coping with COVID-19, racial injustice and drug prevention.

“The results were really encouraging and inspirational,” said Dana Bossio, of the Fairfield Public Schools.

In the last 30 days, alcohol use was down 6 percent in grades seven though 12 compared to 2019. The amount of alcohol use for seniors specifically was also down from 2019 — 36 percent of seniors drank in the last month, according to survey results.

The use of marijuana, nicotine and vaping also went down compared to 2019 with 81 percent of students between seventh and 12th grade considering vaping tobacco, nicotine or marijuana as a risky behavior — up from the 69 percent of students that thought so in 2019.

While numbers were generally low across the board in the drug prevention module, a trend that remains an area of concern is that by senior year of high school, the perception of risk on drugs and alcohol is significantly lower and the rate of which the substances are used much higher.

“Alcohol remains and has been our biggest concern in terms of substance use,” coalition coordinator Cathy Hazlett said. “The data this year I have to admit was kind of interesting.

“Is this an impact of COVID or have we seen significant improvement?” she asked. “This may be frankly a result of not having or not getting together with peers. COVID definitely prohibited people from getting together.”

Hazlett said it is not surprising that the trend of substance abuse continues to go up in the upper high school grades. “By senior year we definitely see a lot of relaxed attitudes around substance abuse,” she said.

Two of the more positive results gathered from the survey stemmed from the current event modules of coping with COVID-19 and the “racial injustice uprising.”

Bossio said students have had a reliable reality testing and have come to accept the current circumstances. It has also given the students lifelong lessons that have reshaped their mindset.

“Kids have certainly felt stressed in the last 15 months as most of us have,” Bossio said. “Luckily, they feel like they do have a capacity to learn from these experiences and take some positives away and I think even looking at the qualitative responses to the [survey] that we did, students certainly took away a lot of sort of lifelong lessons from this experience.”

However, one area Bossio believes is a place the board and coalition should look at is what students are using to cope with stressors not just related to the pandemic, but to cope effectively with stressors in general.

As far as the racial injustice segment of the survey, data was gathered that showed that 76 percent of the students either agree or strongly agree that they have an important role to play in ending racial injustice. Eighty-nine percent believe that the racial injustice has made them more aware of their own words and actions to help in the fight against racism. About 95 percent believe that working with others in the community can make things fairer for people and 84 percent are more likely to take action in the fight against racism, according to the survey results.

“This to me was one of the most exciting sort of bits of information in terms of the racial injustice module,” said Bossio. “Kids really feel like they have a voice and that they have the capacity to make change and to be involved in something bigger.”