This past Tuesday I got to spend the day with a very exciting group of community members, law enforcement officers, and school administrators.   Not the usual group that I hang out with, but it turned out to be a very interesting and exciting day.   Why was this cast of characters together?   To discuss the latest data collected from the 2009 Choices Survey conducted by Columbia County Connects.   If you are unfamiliar with the Choices Survey, it is a survey conducted at 9 of the 10 school districts in Columbia county and includes students in grades 6 thru 12.   The survey centers around what choices our students are making and attempts to collect trend data on topics such as Tobacco use, Alcohol use, Sexuality, school safety, depression and suicide. So after reading that list of topics I am sure you are thinking how can that information be exciting?  The answer is, because in a lot of areas there is good news to celebrate.  For instance 30 day non-use of tobacco and alcohol trend rates are up,  meaning that fewer teens are reporting having a drink or using tobacco in the last 30 days.  In addition students not riding with someone who has been drinking is up from 64% in 2001 to 76% in 2009.  The other good news is like in past years students in Columbia County schools overwhelmingly feel safe at school.

Unfortunately among this good news there is some bad.   There are still too many of our kids making unhealthy choices and the numbers relating to kids hurting themselves and thinking of suicide are up slightly.   One very disturbing trend is the amount of our kids who state that they do not think of the consequences of their choices.  Without understanding the consequences, it is too easy to be swayed by peer pressure and the desire to just fit in.

After receiving this data we were able to get together in groups based on location and discuss how to address this data.   We had a good group from the Lodi Area all of whom have already been involved in addressing our main areas of concern.   The discussion brought about what I believe will be a fundamental change in how the Community Action Team will operate.  The main thoughts are that in the past we have tried to address single issues like drinking or prescription drugs.   We have also always gone for the big bang approach, big events to try to create awareness.   Our discussion on Tuesday lead us more down the path of focusing more on making healthy choices across all areas and on becoming more of an equipping group to help coordinate and educate the various groups that already exist in the Lodi Area.  We would do this by creating a Summit for all groups in Lodi to explain the data from the Choices Survey, create a common language when addressing these issues, and coordinating our individual efforts.   In addition, we discussed creating a speakers bureau to provide resources to individual groups who wish to tackle some of these issues.

In the coming weeks and months we will be talking more about this and how to put these plans into action.   I am very excited about where we are as a group and I believe that this new direction will be good for our kids and our community.