"Every school has its own
it’s important to tailor
to the unique needs
of each school."
Pat Sanborn, Project Director
Because medicinal marijuana is now legal in California, many communities are experiencing an increase in permissive attitudes toward the use of marijuana—adding to school districts’ existing concerns about substance abuse among students. Concerned partners of the BRONCO Program (Building Resiliency Opportunities for the North County) decided to take the necessary steps to learn more about their own students’ drug and alcohol use. Based on their data, they made a plan that allowed them to act on the changing attitudes and use of illicit substances among youth in their community.
BRONCO Program Coordinator Pat Sanborn knew that addressing illicit drug use and underage drinking in the district would require a well thought out approach—one that included input from schools and collaboration with the community.
One of the North County school districts, Round Valley Unified School District (RVUSD), has a high school whose student population is predominately Native American. Pat—who works across all district schools—says, “Every school has its own personality, students, and issues, so it’s important to tailor substance abuse prevention programs to the unique needs of each school. Having a ‘cookie cutter’ approach will not work. You need to work with each school and find out what their strengths are and what resources they have available.”
To begin the process of assessing each school’s needs, student surveys were administered. Results indicated that some students do use marijuana and consume alcohol, but the survey also revealed that these substances are being used at rates much lower than what students perceive. BRONCO thought this was significant because false perceptions about the use of marijuana and alcohol can contribute to unhealthy social norms. Data also showed a need for prevention programs and substance abuse treatment.
With survey data collected and interpreted, BRONCO began to draw its roadmap. The group decided to focus its work in three areas: social norms, culturally appropriate programming, and school-based substance abuse counseling.
To address social norms regarding substance abuse, the district provided students with data and resources to create posters that conveyed accurate information about the number of students who use marijuana and alcohol. According to Pat, students were surprised to learn that most of their peers did not use substances. This corrected misconception, it is hoped, will help to reduce student substance abuse.
At RVUSD’s high school, the district and it’s local partners collaborated to implemented White Bison’s Sons and Daughters of Tradition—a substance abuse prevention program centered on Native American/American Indian (NA/AI) culture. Specifically, Sons and Daughters of Tradition applies traditional NA/AI teachings about health, emotions, and the transition from youth to adulthood to substance abuse prevention, making it a culturally appropriate fit for high schools serving large numbers of NA students. School staff and counselors received training in the program, and the school now offers it as a full-semester class. Sons and Daughters of Tradition has been well-received by students.
With room in its budget, the school district also hired a school-based substance abuse counselor to integrate mental health and substance abuse services. The counselor developed a strong relationship with Round Valley’s Tribal community. The counselor involves parents and families in the initial stages of students’ substance abuse treatment, helping students receive support at home and repair relationships with their families. In addition to meeting with students regularly, the counselor continues to meet with parents on an as-needed basis throughout each student’s treatment.
From 2010 to 2012, rates of binge drinking in the past month decreased among middle school students from 18% to 6%. During the same time period, reported use of marijuana in the past month decreased from 20% to 8%. BRONCO is committed to sustaining this work and continues to monitor the program’s progress to ensure that its actions are making a difference.