Although a recent survey reported low levels of drug and alcohol use among middle school and high school students in the New Albany-Plain Local School District, a larger percentage of students reported experiencing stress and anxiety.

As a result, district leaders are using the data to help create a more supportive school environment for students.

Shirley Hamilton, director of secondary and elementary education, said the district is planning a change in the way counselors operate at New Albany Middle School and New Albany High School to improve the continuity of service.

The middle school has two counselors, while the high school has four counselors, she said.

Starting the next school year, the counselors will work with the same set of students as they move through grade levels, so that student-counselor relationships can endure throughout a student's time in a school building, she said.

Students need to have trusted adults they can go to, Hamilton said.

"It gives students a sense of belonging and a sense of family," she said.

Survey results

The survey was administered at the end of February by Virginia-based Hanover Research, which the district uses for data and assessment, Hamilton said.

The district has a contract with Hanover, which primarily provides data analysis for state-testing results, said district spokesman Patrick Gallaway. The contract's annual cost is $34,000.

The survey results were released May 22, Gallaway said.

Thirty-one questions were included in the surveys, and students could take 5 to 15 minutes to complete it, depending on how they responded to each prompt. For example, students who responded that they did not use alcohol, marijuana or illicit drugs skipped several questions pertaining to drug use, he said.

Students took the online surveys during the school day; it had a 95 percent participation rate for the middle school and high school, Hamilton said.

The survey results include 2,962 responses: 1,171 were middle school students and 1,791 were high school students.

Although 79 percent reported no substance use, Hamilton said, she believes some students might have underreported despite the fact that results were anonymous.

Eighteen percent of students reported using alcohol, 9 percent reported using illicit drugs, 7 percent reported using tobacco and 5 percent reported using prescription medication that was not prescribed.

Marijuana was the top illicit drug, with 96 percent of use by those who reported using illicit drugs. Over-the-counter drugs and synthetic marijuana were less popular at 24 percent, followed closely by ecstasy and hallucinogens, at 23 and 22 percent, respectively.

Fourteen percent of students who reported using illicit drugs said they used heroin.

Popular reasons students indicated for substance use included to feel good about themselves or feel good in the moment, because they were bored or to find an escape.

High school principal Dwight Carter said these four reasons indicate that students have a pressure-filled environment or a lack of resiliency.

District administrators need to consider what type of stressors students have and how the district can provide ways in which students can cope, he said.

Stress and anxiety are challenges for a considerable number of students, according to survey results. Forty-five percent of students said they experienced stress and anxiety, although about half of the students surveyed said they easily could obtain school support when they need it.

Some said school support didn't extend to all necessary areas, however. Only 36 percent of students surveyed said the schools quickly stop all cases of bullying.