York County students said alcohol and drug use is going down, but also think their communities should do more to make them feel included.

That's some of what was learned in the second York County Youth Survey, conducted in 2011, with results released Thursday by York County Communities That Care.

Nearly 13,000 York County students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 took part in the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, a statewide initiative to get a better idea about youth perceptions and what they are doing. The York County results of that survey are released through Communities That Care.

Here's some of what was learned:

---Students think schools do a great job rewarding them for being involved and giving them things to do.

---Early drug use and students with friends who do drugs are well below

state averages, a positive sign that students are at low risk for issues as they get older, said Marie Yeager of Communities That Care.

---Students were asked if they had ever used alcohol, cigarettes, inhalants, marijuana or illicit drugs beside marijuana, or if they had used any of those within the past month.

The percentage dropped across the board compared to the first survey done in 2009, and remained lower than state averages. For example, 39.6 percent of York County students in 2011 said they have tried alcohol at some point, compared to 44.6 percent in 2009.

And the bad news:


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---Students increasingly believe their parents are less likely to disapprove of drug use as students go through high school.

---Students have a higher than average perception that a handgun is available if they wanted one.

---About two-thirds of students believe their communities (excluding schools) are "disorganized" and don't give them much to do or reward them for getting involved.

What's next: Keith Martin, Communities That Care board chairman, said all of the results will be combined with data from other upcoming surveys so that Communities That Care and other local organizations can come up strategies to fix problem areas.

In April, a report will be given with proposed solutions, he said.

For instance, after the 2009 survey Martin said Communities That Care put more focus on the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program to get more volunteers to mentor students.

And because of the 2011 results, officials already kicked off a new student essay contest to get York County students a reward for taking interest in their community, Martin said.

Yeager, a Communities That Care board member, emphasized the survey results are not a reflection on school quality, since students were asked about their overall lives. She lauded schools for allowing access to students, and said each school gets its own set of data to help with programs.

Martin compared the survey results, which are available at www.yrkcountyctc.org, as a way for the county to see what preventative measures are needed before children end up on the wrong path.

"If certain risks are present in a child's life, those risks will lead to problems," he said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com