© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
On his computer, Carlton Comprehensive Public High School vice principal Jeff Court displays data on self-reported feelings of school connectedness from a recent University of Regina report on youth alcohol and drug use in Prince Albert. His T-shirt is part of Carlton’s 'You Matter' campaign, an effort to make students feel valued and connected to the school.
As Community Mobilization Prince Albert continues to develop a city-wide alcohol strategy, Carlton Comprehensive Public High School is honing its own approach to youth alcohol and drug use.
Rather than a program specifically related to the issue, the school has adopted a comprehensive strategy characterized by a focus on student connectedness and extracurricular activities.
The former may be best summarized by the school’s ongoing “You Matter” campaign. On the first day of the current school year, staff members all wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “You Matter.”
“It’s a pretty strong message to send that we have banded together and that we are here for you as a student and care about the community that we have here,” vice principal Jeff Court said.
“There’s lots of different things that go into this, like extracurricular activities and the number of kids that participate in those activities in the school, the different programming options that we have and students feeling engaged in those things … Giving kids more options to be a part of something bigger, it gives them more options to do something that’s a positive rather than going down the road of … addictions.”
Court’s discussion of the school’s approach to drugs and alcohol came after a presentation earlier in the week by University of Regina researcher Jason Fenno, entitled An Examination of Youth Alcohol and Drug Use in Prince Albert.
Collecting data with the help of Prince Albert Hub and COR staff, Fenno administered surveys at four local high schools, including Carlton.
“What basically it showed was in Prince Albert, our youth are using alcohol and drugs at an earlier age and at a quite an alarming rate in comparison to (the) Canadian norm and Saskatchewan norm,” Court said.
Self-reported rates of alcohol use by Prince Albert youth of once a week or more, as well as two or three times per month, are more than double the national average and substantially higher than the provincial average.
The same holds true for the self-reported age of onset for alcohol use, with the number of youth in Prince Albert who begin drinking at age 14 or age 12 and younger double the national average.
However, Court pointed to other, relatively positive findings from the study.
“The rate in Prince Albert, we are at par with Saskatchewan for (the) norm for students feeling safe in their schools,” he noted. “We’re about 10 per cent higher than Saskatchewan and Canada for feeling that teachers are treating students fairly.
“Happiness within the school is again 10 to 12 per cent higher, and feeling closely connected to somebody in the school is also higher than any of the other areas.”
Where Carlton is concerned, the school’s primary methods for reducing youth alcohol and drug use consist of making students feel more connected to something larger than themselves, building relationships and offering a range of more constructive activities.
A positive experience in the school shows that there would be a decrease in alcohol use just because there’s other things for them to do. Jeff Court
“A positive experience in the school shows that there would be a decrease in alcohol use just because there’s other things for them to do … (Feeling) more connected to the school and school community just shows positive attributes throughout the rest of their lives and (being) able to continue on and to be a positive member of the community is ultimately what it is,” Court said.
Another element of Carlton’s approach to drugs and alcohol is the presence of other community organizations at the school, which Court likened to a “mini-Hub type of situation.”
Local agencies with a presence at the school include addictions services and mental health services -- both through the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region -- as well as a school liaison officer from the local police
“We’ve got mental health workers that come in and work two days a week (and) we’ve got an addictions services worker that’s here four days a week,” Court said.
He added, “We’ve got a school liaison officer here that’s through city police … He’s more involved in the community engagement side of things and making positive relationships with students and doing presentations and those types of things.
“But to have those resources right in your building is a unique thing, and you’re able to solve a number of different things here right in the facility before they have to go anywhere else.”
While Carlton continues to refine its approach, the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division (SRPSD) as a whole has helped contribute to the development of a wider community alcohol strategy.
SRPSD director of education Robert Bratvold noted that students from the division’s high schools have been an active part of Community Mobilization Prince Albert’s ongoing focus groups and consultations.
With two students representing each school on the division’s Student Voice group, a selection of those students (Bratvold estimated 15 out of a total of 22 students) has taken part in the consultations.
“We’ve been part of that structure and contributing to the development of that community plan,” Bratvold said.
“In terms of our system, I think how I would describe it is we’ve got an increased level of awareness … Each school’s kind of tailored to what they see is most needed, and most of it would be probably individual-based.”
While the education sector is playing a role in the development of a community alcohol strategy, Bratvold noted that the project is a joint effort.
“Certainly we can do lots as an education system and one of the leaders in the community,” he said. “But I know it’s got to be our whole community working together on this.”