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GF area students likely to avoid risky behavior

GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks area students are less likely to smoke, drink or use other drugs compared with their peers across North Dakota, according to a new behavior survey.

Students in grades nine through 12 participated in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a biennial report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention covering drug use, sexual activity and other behavior in students across the nation. More than 10,000 North Dakota high school students were surveyed last year for the report that was released Monday.

The survey breaks down information according to groups of schools, and individual districts were not listed. But students who fell under the Red River Valley Education Cooperative, which represents 21 area schools including those in Grand Forks, generally matched or fell below state averages in all categories.

The Red River Valley schools reported lower drug use and engagement in sexual activity, but matched state averages in suicide attempts and health-related matters.

For example, 14.1 percent of Grand Forks area students reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days, compared with 15.9 percent statewide, and 36.6 percent of area students reported having had sex, compared with 44.9 percent statewide.

Other areas the survey covers include body weight, dietary habits, school violence and tobacco use.

Superintendent Jeff Manley of Cavalier Public School District, one of the Red River Valley schools, said he thinks students seem to be making smarter choices compared to a decade ago.

“Nationwide, I think there’s been more of an emphasis on a healthier lifestyle, and I think that trickles down to our students,” he said. “Maybe their parents are a lot healthier than their parents used to be, so the (students) kind of grow up in that mindset.”

Lower drug use

The percentage of area students using drugs is often lower than state averages.

Alcohol is still the drug of choice among teens here and across the state, but fewer have been using it. Lower numbers of students in the area reported regularly drinking, and 18.3 percent reported binge drinking — or, having five or more drinks in one sitting — compared with 21.9 percent statewide.

According to some of the most recent information available, alcohol use by Grand Forks students has declined. In a 2012 survey conducted by the district, 20 percent of students in fourth through 12th grade reported drinking. Although it was a 4 percent increase from the 2010 survey, that’s 18 percentage points less compared to 2001, a trend that appears to be happening throughout the state.

In the past decade, high school students were less likely to drink, smoke cigarettes, use marijuana or ride in a vehicle with a driver who had been drinking, according to an analysis by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

The rise in seat belt use, and the decline in the number of students riding with a driver who has been drinking, shows that education is effective, said state Superintendent Kirsten Baesler.

“It does say that when we present evidence and facts to our students, they understand the consequences,” she said in a release.

Superintendent Roger Abbe of the Larimore Public School District said he’s happy to hear the news of declining drug use but long-term trends in individual districts need to be examined further.

He was only willing to say that his school works “hard to provide prevention programs and help students understand the importance of not only not doing drugs, but also not accepting the lifestyle in general.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 

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