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Sex, drugs part of these students' education

Survey by Shenendehowa senior of her classmates reveals seamy side of school; results upset official

Times Union (Albany) By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
May 18, 2006

CLIFTON PARK -- Ninety-two percent of Shenendehowa seniors polled in a survey said they can acquire marijuana easily, and six in 10 seniors sampled in the suburban district reported having sex.

Meanwhile, 90 percent of the surveyed seniors at Shenendehowa claimed they have friends who smoke pot, and nearly three in four of them found pot socially acceptable.

Those were the findings of senior Mariam Ballout, who wrote "Sexual Activity and Drug Use at Shen" for the district's student newspaper, The Shen Pen. It was also for her advanced statistics course.

Ballout, 17, based her reporting on 14 questions posed to 152 sophomores, juniors and seniors in random homerooms in Shenendehowa High School East. The queries surveyed students about their drug use and sexual activity.

Some of the answers startled and even disappointed school leaders, but the results made sense, she and a top school official said.

"The figures are worse than I would have hoped," school board President Gary DiLallo said. "I don't think I'm shocked, unfortunately."

He said his daughter and two sons were educated in the district, and they witnessed some of what the survey reports.

"The numbers are not something to be proud of, as far as I'm concerned," DiLallo said.

Some students and teachers said the response totals came in too low. Others said too high. Ballout, the former Op-Ed page editor of The Shen Pen, says she got a fair sample. Students Melanie Raydo and Liz Gray helped distribute the surveys, the results of which were published in the paper's May edition.

Ballout also discovered that of all those surveyed, 36 percent tried marijuana; 12 percent smoke it once a week or more; 16 percent have tried other drugs; 10 percent have experimented with a hallucinogen; 35 percent think they could get an hallucinogen easily; 4 percent have tried cocaine or ecstasy; and 53 percent -- including 62 percent of seniors -- view drug use as a problem at the district.

"Actually, it was pretty much what I expected," Ballout said. "I got a lot of reaction from students and teachers."

Nearly one in four sophomores polled have had sex, 31 percent of juniors and 60 percent of seniors, according to the survey. The latter number is close to the 61.6 percent of 12th-grade students nationwide who had intercourse in 2003, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ballout no longer writes for The Shen Pen, but she said her leaving had nothing to do with the story she wrote. She noted in the story that most of the results from the drug-related questions matched that of recent national studies of high school drug use.

"I think there's a lot of speculation (about) how much drug use and sex actually occurs at Shen. I tried to give people an actual representation of what the truth was," Ballout said.