Steamboat Springs Close to one in three students at Soroco high school and middle schools admitted to using marijuana in the last 30 days and even more, about 40 percent, admitted to using alcohol during those same 30 days.
That was what a survey taken at the Oak Creek schools found last school year. It also found that more than 60 percent of students had used alcohol and more than 35 percent marijuana in their lifetime. And, one of the most alarming findings for school officials was that about 50 percent of the students surveyed said their parents had a favorable attitude towards drug use.
Those numbers were all well above the state average.
And, those numbers were also part of the reason 23-year-olds Regan Schaller and Heide Jackson-Davila were at Soroco Middle School Wednesday talking about how they're hoping to change those statistics one student at a time.
They are two of the six full time AmeriCorps members sent to Routt County to help mentor students in the three district's middle schools. Started last month, the six members began infiltrating their way into local classrooms as part of the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps' Healthy Lifestyles Mentoring Program.
Supported by a $193,000 grant from AmeriCorps, the fulltime members will be working with 48 low-achieving students in hopes of improving students' academic and social attitudes.
"(Routt County) definitely has higher favorable attitudes towards substance use than the national average. It makes sense. This is a resort town and (Hayden and Soroco) see the residual affects," said RMYC Gretchen Van De Carr, who initiated the grant process last spring. "And, research shows that positive adult role modeling works."
For almost a month, Schaller and Jackson-Davila have been working in Soroco classrooms gaining trust of not only the students they are looking to mentor, but other students and teachers. Eventually, they hope to have the students, which teachers and counselors have identified as being especially receptive of mentoring, become involved in community volunteer projects.
While Soroco survey results are the most recent, it is not alone in its above average drug and alcohol use among middle school and high school students.
Using sixth, seventh, eighth and 11th grade Steamboat Springs students, a 1997 American Drug and Alcohol Survey showed that alcohol use was 50 to 75 percent higher than national average and marijuana use was almost double the national average.
While a wealthy ski resort town and surrounding communities might not match AmeriCorps stereotypical image of aiding communities in low income and urban areas, most everyone involved in the Routt County project claim that rural areas need the attention.
Soroco Middle School principal James Chamberlin said that small rural communities like South Routt do not have the youth services that many urban areas do, which leaves students with little social choices outside of school activities.
"It comes up with the fact that Routt County is underserved. Our youth are underserved when compared with youth across the country. There's less stuff to do," Chamberlin said.
In their grant proposal to AmeriCorps, the RMYC stated nationwide studies showed that eighth graders in rural America are 104 percent more likely than those in urban areas to use amphetamines and 50 percent more likely to use cocaine.
And, RMYC program coordinator, Avrom Feinberg said the transient character of a ski resort town and its focus on recreational drinking puts Routt County at an even higher risk than other areas.
As an AmeriCorps operating project, the RMYC's healthy lifestyles mentoring program is a huge expansion for a organization that was supported by the city until 1999. Until the AmeriCorps grant, the non-profit's main programs were the summer Conservation Corps and the fall's Yampa Valley Science School.
Part of the $193,000 AmeriCorps money, which will be given annually until 2003, will also be used to support 20 part time AmeriCorps members to work on conservation projects over the summer.
But the six school based mentors, who will bring 240 hours of community service a week, are the main focus of the program right now.
The RMYC is working with Partners, the local organization that supports volunteer youth mentoring, and the three school districts to bring a consistent and positive influence to middle school students.
Van De Carr said the Healthy Lifestyles program marks the first time an AmeriCorps operating program has been based in Northwest Colorado. She would like to see the grant continue past the end of the three-year granting cycle and in the next five years incorporate volunteers from the community to make the program financial sustainable.
With the alarming red flags the survey results showed, Partners and the RMYC had been discussing developing a mentoring program in the three school districts for the last few years. After learning of other successful student mentoring programs around the country that were funded by AmeriCorps, Van De Carr thought RMYC should go after the grant last spring.
"I just put two and two together," Van De Carr said.
To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org