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Published: Tuesday, 7/3/2012

Wood County student drug use falls

School officials cite federal grants

BY LIYAN CHEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As two federal grants come to an end in Wood County, the numbers are telling.

Before schools received funds from a drug-testing grant and a Reduce Alcohol Abuse in Secondary Schools grant in 2008, alcohol use for fifth to 12th-grade students in Wood County was above the national average. Now, alcohol and tobacco use for those students are at all-time lows, based on the results of the 2012 Wood County Youth Survey.

Grants of $1.1 million for drug testing and $523,761 to reduce alcohol abuse were used over a four-year period, ending in May and June, respectively.

"I think that the grant is something worthwhile. It provides an option for students to say 'no.' It's a great 'out' for them," said Marlene North, superintendent of North Baltimore Schools.

Several superintendents said the drug-testing grant was effective in combating drug abuse. Students could use the drug test as a reason to refuse taking drugs if they faced peer pressure, some officials said.

Grant funds were used to provide random drug tests for students in the Elmwood, Lake, Northwood, North Baltimore, Otsego, Perrysburg, and Rossford school districts. Students in athletics or competitive extracurricular activities were required to participate in the program.

Out of about 11,000 tests, 65 were positive. Students who tested positive had to go through a counseling process.

"We are not trying to catch the kids," said Thomas Hosler, superintendent of Perrysburg Schools. "We focus on the counseling process. We want to give the kids an opportunity to do the right thing."

Some schools developed policies to allow students to refer themselves for drug tests. Self-referred students who tested positive could receive less severe punishments, officials said.

"The parents liked it. It was an extra eye to keep their kids honest," Elmwood Superintendent Tony Borton said. "The parents and the school board respected the program."

Both grants achieved positive outcomes, according to the Wood County Educational Service Center which was awarded the funds.

Wood County schools implemented alcohol-prevention programs, such as the New Cool campaign to encourage youths to join the majority of their peers in living an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle.

"There's a climate change in our schools, and that is very essential," said Lorrie Lewandowski, a supervisor of the center's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Prevention Program.

Educational service center staff pointed out the difficulty of quantitatively measuring either grant's effectiveness.

"Can I say the lower prevalence rates are results of the grants? I do not have the direct evidence. But the grants, along with all other prevention programs, have been effective in changing the culture," said Kyle Clark, the center's project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students.

"We look at the grants as a part of the continuous effort of our entire prevention program," Mr. Clark said.

"For example, even though the reduce alcohol abuse grant is going away, the New Cool campaign is still thriving and the kids are still into it."

With the two grants ending, officials are trying to sustain the programs' successes.

The future of random drug testing remains uncertain.

Perrysburg, Lake, and Rossford schools plan to continue the testing for the coming school year, funded by the athletic budget, general fund dollars, or a combination of both.

"We are pleased with how the drug tests give our kids a reason to say 'no.' We will continue the drug tests even without the grant," said Jim Witt, Lake's superintendent.

Other schools have not yet indicated if the random drug tests will continue.

Contact Liyan Chen at: lchen@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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