F.C. Schools Substance Abuse Below National Average, Use Still Widespread

Survey Results Show Decrease in Overall Drug Use Over Past Three Years

A survey of 1,020 students between grades 6-12 in the Falls Church City Public School system revealed that, despite efforts made by the schools and with lower numbers than the national average, at least a quarter of Falls Church teenagers have smoked tobacco and more than one in five have smoked marijuana on a regular basis. About half have consumed alcohol over the past year.

The 2009-2010 survey, conducted by international survey company Pride Surveys which conducts similar surveys for more than 8,000 school systems in the U.S., revealed that, among high school students between grades 9-12, 26.3 percent had used tobacco habitually during 2009, 21.8 had used marijuana and 45.6 percent admitted to consuming alcohol.

According to the survey, the average age when students first used any of the substances was between 13 and 14.

A significant percentage of students said they used tobacco, alcohol and marijuana on weekends and off school property — less than three percent of students reported using any substance while at school.

Most high school teens who have consumed alcohol said they drank at a friend’s house.

“As indicated in every PRIDE Survey, the vast majority of drinking, smoking cigarettes or marijuana occurs in the community,” FCCPS Student Services Coordinator Judy Becker said in a press release following the survey’s release this week.

Of all students surveyed, 43.8 percent said their parents did not set clear rules for using illicit drugs. Little more than a third of the students said parents had never or seldom talked about the dangers of drug use.

The press release, however, indicated that the overall average of George Mason High School reporting any use of tobacco, alcohol or marijuana has decreased by 14 percent over the course of the last three years.

FCCPS Superintendent Lois Berlin said in the press release that the school system has been “very proactive in our efforts to educate students about the health risks associated with tobacco, alcohol and drug use.”

Berlin pointed to the extracurricular high school group, Be the Change Club, which arose from the school system’s Challenge Days program, as one of the potential primary factors for the reduction in student drug use.

“It will take a sustained, collective effort among schools, parents and the community to reach all students,” Berlin said.

For the complete Pride survey, parents and community members can access the report online at the FCCPS Web site,