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Survey Shows More Seniors at Wellesley High School Drink Alcohol Than Don't

Results come as school officials call on parents to address teen drinking after students were found drunk at Friday night's football game.

A survey of seniors found that more than half say they have had a drink within the past 30 days, and nearly three quarters have attended a party where alcohol was available.

The survey, taken anonymously last fall by students in grades 6 through 12, also shows that 45 percent of the seniors report they have been drunk, and 37 percent report they have binged on alcohol.

The survey was the third done in the Wellesley Public Schools over the past four years by the MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation to give communities information about the health and risk behaviors of its middle and high school students. It covered not only substance abuse, but bullying, cyber bullying, mental health, sexual behaviors and physical activity and nutrition among other topics.

Results were presented to the School Committee last night, just four days after Friday night’s football game at during which for alcohol intoxication, two of whom needed medical attention, and reports of other students drinking before arriving at the game and smuggling alcohol into the stands in water bottles.

“Drinking is a popular pastime throughout our country,” said High School Principal Andrew Keough. “Kids are learning from us. Until society makes an effort to address this, it’s going to be tough for us. ...It really is a community issue, I’m convinced of that."

School Committee Chairwoman Suzy Littlefield echoed that sentiment, calling on parents to get involved.

“Parents have to start addressing some of these issues,” she said, adding that last night was just the beginning of the discussion on the survey’s findings.

Ninety one percent of Wellesley students participated in the survey which found local teens drinking at just about the same or slightly higher percentages as their peers in 24 other participating MetroWest communities.

It also showed that alcohol use increases in each grade, with 19 percent of ninth graders, 39 percent of 10th graders, 50 percent of juniors and 58 percent of seniors saying they have drank alcohol within the past 30 days.

Binge drinking, categorized as consuming five or more drinks within a couple of hours, shows the same kind of progression, with 7 percent of ninth graders, 25 percent of sophomores, 33 percent of juniors and 37 percent of seniors reporting they have binged on alcohol.

The idea of getting drunk before attending a dance, football game or other big social event may be an outcome of the older legal drinking age and stricter rules prohibiting alcoholic beverages on school property and in the possession of minors.

But it may also be a way students deal with stress, according to Keough.

He said students have spoken to him about the Friday night game and said some look at drinking as a way of relieving pressure.

He said students look at it as, “If I can swig this before I get through that gate I’ll be all set.”

And, he said, “this is where they are unloading, so to speak. ...It’s troubling.”

At the , the survey showed 2 percent of sixth graders, 3 percent of seventh and 6 percent of eighth graders say they have had a drink in the past 30 days, which is slightly less than the MetroWest average.

The survey found that Wellesley students are making progress in quitting or not starting smoking tobacco, with just one percent of Middle School students reporting having smoked in the past 30 days. At the high school, 8 percent of students reporting smoking at least one cigarette in the past 30 days.

Students reported higher instances of smoking marijuana, however. Two percent of middle school students in grades seven and eight reported smoking pot at least once during the past 30 days.

At the High School, 6 percent of the freshman, 16 percent of the sophomores, 24 percent of the juniors and 28 percent of the seniors reported smoking marijuana at least once during the past 30 days.

The survey also showed that 51 perecent of high school students who said they've had an alcoholic beverage over the past 30 days got it at a party; 15 percent said it was purchased for them by a friend; 10 percent said they got it from a friend; 8 percent said they got the alcohol at home with a parent's knowledge, and 8 percent said they got it at home without a parent's knowledge; 2 percent said they bought it themselves and 1 percent said they asked a stranger to buy alcohol for them.

Superintendent Bella T. Wong asked parents to look at the data.

“More likely than not your child is participating in risky behavior,” she said, asking parents to begin talking to their students about substance abuse.

“Parents are the most important people to start those conversations,” she said.

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