Berkeley students continue to report higher rates of marijuana use than the most recent statewide average that’s available, according to the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey. District staff said that overall, however, substance use in Berkeley appears to be on a downward trend. See the full survey here. Source: Berkeley Unified School District

Students in Berkeley schools are reporting declining substance use rates and decreasing exposure to violence, according to responses to a biennial survey administered across several grade levels, and at Berkeley Technology Academy, in January.

Berkeley Unified School District officials reported preliminary results from the 2012 California Healthy Kids Survey on Wednesday night, Nov. 14, to the Board of Education and school administrators.

The survey data came with a range of caveats, but Student Services Director Susan Craig and Evaluation and Assessment Director Debbi D’Angelo told the board and co-superintendents that the results are “promising” and “reveal a change” in a pattern of “exceedingly high use rates” for marijuana and alcohol.

Berkeley students still report higher marijuana use than the state average, though D’Angelo cautioned that an accurate comparison is hard to make because the most recent state data available are from 2007.

Lifetime alcohol use rates in Berkeley were similar to, though slightly lower than, reported state use rates, and tobacco use appeared somewhat lower than the state numbers. (See the table above for more detail.)

According to the staff report, “The 2012 [California Healthy Kids Survey] data strongly suggest that the prevention and intervention efforts that have been implemented at BUSD schools within the past two years have been effective in both reducing ATOD (Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs) use by students and improving overall school safety.”

For the first year since the survey began in Berkeley schools in 2006, the district was able to collect enough data in all participating grade levels to be considered reliable for each sample. Students in grades five, seven, nine and 11, as well as students at B-Tech, are asked to participate; all of the responses are self-reported.

In the charts that accompany this story, which were created by the Berkeley Unified School District, responses from B-Tech students are not included unless specifically noted.

Staff pointed to declines in reported substance use rates across all grade levels.

They stressed, however, that low participation rates in prior years for various grade levels render the data somewhat unreliable.

(See the participation rates since 2006 on page 3 of the full report to the board.)

Staff also pointed to declining reports, from 2010 to 2012, of students who said they had been drunk or high on campus. But the rates for ninth- and 11th-graders are still higher than the 2007 state average of about 25%. In 2010, for example, nearly 50% of participating 11th-graders said they had been drunk or high on campus. That dropped to around 35% in 2012.

(The majority of the percentages noted in this article are estimates based on graphs presented by the district; D’Angelo said the actual numbers would not be publicly available until the agency that collects the surveys, WestEd, posts them online in 2013. She also said it would be more revealing to look the trends rather than focus on specific numbers given the data collection challenges in the past.)

Staff noted that students at B-Tech reported higher substance use rates than other Berkeley schools students. It’s the first year the district has gotten a baseline rate for B-Tech, and the numbers are not broken down by grade level, so it’s difficult to draw additional comparisons.

Interventions recently have been put into place for B-Tech students, including daily counseling sessions offered at school and violence prevention education, called the Alive and Free Prescription, via staff from the San Francisco Omega Boys Club, according to a statement released Monday by the district and the city of Berkeley.

Regarding questions on violence and safety, fifth-graders reported a significant drop in feeling safe off campus all the time, from about 46% in 2010 to about 23% in 2012. Other safety measures, related to bullying, bringing a weapon to school and feeling safe on campus didn’t show much change.

Fifth-graders in Berkeley reported much lower rates of bullying in 2012 than the 2007 state average.

There was, however, an increase, from roughly 16% to around 21%, in fifth-graders who said they saw someone with a gun or knife at school.

In response to questions about harassment, physical fights and fear of violence, participating students in seventh, ninth and 11th grades reported fewer problems from 2010 to 2012.

Students at B-Tech reported significantly higher rates in those categories. Nearly 20% said they considered themselves to be part of a gang. Nearly 50% said they had brought a weapon onto school property over the past 12 months, compared to closer to 10% of students outside B-Tech. Officials noted that weapons could primarily be carried for protection, however, as a similar number, close to 50%, said they feared getting beat up.

Despite this, close to 70% of B-Tech students still said they felt safe at school.

Non-B-Tech students in grades seven, nine and 11 reported increases in feeling either safe, or very safe, at school from 2010 to 2012. Those numbers were higher than the 2007 statewide reports.

There were also increasing rates, from 2010 to 2012, in Berkeley students who reported having caring relationships with a teacher or other adult, and experiencing high expectations from adults. In both categories, the Berkeley numbers were significantly higher than the 2007 statewide numbers.

Craig told the board that attendance improvement efforts in the district, along with better procedures for consequences and interventions aimed at students found with substances at school —as well as prevention education and interventions at all middle schools, Berkeley High School, and B-Tech through a three-year Tobacco Use Prevention Education grant — have most likely contributed to the positive changes seen in the survey results.

These results, according to the staff report, help the district create strategies “to prevent, reduce, and delay the onset of high risk behaviors.”

Outreach and education for families have been part of the effort to decrease the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs since spring 2010, according to Monday’s statement. Many of these endeavors have come about through the city’s High School Health Center with support from the Berkeley High School Development Group.

Board members said they were curious to see more detailed results broken down by school, gender and ethnicity, among other factors, and brainstormed how to get more buy-in from students, and continue to increase participation in the survey.

District staff said school principals had received binders with their own school data, and already had been comparing them Wednesday morning.

Staff said, in response to a question from the board, that there were some notable differences in survey response rates from campus to campus, but declined to elaborate pending full public release of the results.

The school district will work with the city of Berkeley, under the auspices of the 2020 Vision Collaborative, to use the results from the survey to assess their efforts to promote healthy habits among Berkeley’s youth, to measure the impact of programs and services, and to direct resources to address specific risk behaviors, according to Monday’s statement.

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...