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Marshall student survey SMASHes some stereotypes

Comparisons with a year ago show stark difference in behavior

One poster shows a group of students holding red plastic cups - the kind commonly used at parties to drink beer and other alcoholic beverages.

The message, however, shows that perceptions don't often reflect reality: 'Just because we have red cups, does it mean we're drinking alcohol?'

The tag line reads: 'Fact is, 72 percent of Marshall students don't drink alcohol.'

Although Southeast Portland's Marshall Campus closes next month, ending a 51-year history, students still have a lot to say. They spoke about their work to end persistent stereotypes at a public town hall event Tuesday evening.

They described how during the past year, a group of 15 to 20 students worked with Oregon Partnership, the anti-drug and alcohol nonprofit, on a team they called SMASH - Students Making Ads for Social Health.

Their work involved a survey of their peers this fall on their drug and alcohol habits. They followed up with another survey this month.

A student group had taken the same surveys last year. The comparisons showed a stark difference. Last year, students' perceived peer alcohol use was 93 percent. This year, that dropped to 55 percent. Perceived use of marijuana last year was 94 percent; this year it was 63 percent.

That's exactly the result Oregon Partnership was aiming for, says Donna Libemday, the group's education director.

'Most kids perceive that everybody's using,' Libemday says. 'Most kids, if they believe that the majority of their peers are choosing to remain substance free, it's OK for them to say that. As you begin to create this atmosphere, you also see a drop in use rates.'

After students collected the data, they worked with a graphic designer to create a brand to relay the information to their peers. They created posters to display in the hallways, and presented the results to different groups including the East Precinct police, local neighborhood and business organizations, the faculty and PTAs.

More student power

The project was similar to an effort at Wilson High School two years ago, with their student group called PACT - Positive Action Concerning Teens.

The effort at Wilson also resulted in a big decrease in suspensions and better behavior overall.

Next year, most Marshall students will attend either Franklin or Madison high school, based on where they live. The district doesn't have any immediate plans for the Marshall Campus space.

In all of the transition, the students have struggled with truancy. Students involved in the SMASH effort persisted despite the uncertainty of their schooling next year.

'It's really invigorating to hear from the youth what they've discovered about themselves,' says Tom Parker, Oregon Partnership spokesman. 'They have more power than they think.'

Just after Marshall's small school graduation ceremonies on June 2 and June 3, students, staff, families, alumni and community members are gearing up for a 'Marshall Tribute' Saturday, June 4 from noon to 3 p.m.

The event is free and the public is invited.