Alcohol, drugs a concern for Wimmera schools

WIMMERA principals are concerned that alcohol and drugs are affecting students.

The Mail-Times randomly surveyed three of the region's secondary colleges on Friday in response to a report by the Australian National Council on Drugs.

The study found more than 200 Australian secondary college principals believed students were significantly and negatively affected by alcohol.

Surveyed Wimmera principals said booze-filled weekends and unsupervised parties were stunting students' learning.

St Brigid's College deputy principal Kingsley Dalgleish said he was not seeing the effects of alcohol or drug use within the student body during school hours.

"But we are aware that alcohol is an issue within the age bracket in the community," he said.

"There is a culture of drinking, particularly on weekends, but I haven't seen it at school.

"It is certainly something we look out for to make sure that is not the case."

College students have access to a well-being co-ordinator.

The school runs health programs within classes, which address drug and alcohol issues.

Year 9 and 10 students can also participate in the Australian Red Cross save-a-mate program.

Nhill College principal Leonie Praetz said alcohol consumption among underage students was a concern within her community.

"It tends to be a weekend activity for a number of students," she said.

"It would be in everyone's interest to discourage underage drinking and promote the responsible consumption of alcohol once they come of age" - Nhill College principal Leonie Praetz

She could not recall any instances when hangovers or poor health due to alcohol or drugs had hindered learning.

Staff were more likely to be faced with the emotional aftermath of a big weekend, when people might have behaved irresponsibly.

"We have a fantastic welfare team and year level co-ordinators who care for students and their welfare, not just their academic achievements," Ms Praetz said.

She said the school had a Party Safe program and police regularly visited senior students to encourage safe celebrations.

"We also get a lot of community people willing to come in to share the wisdom of their experiences and to help students that way," she said.

"But we can only work with the students to make sure they're safe and experiencing life in a safe way."

She urged community groups and parents to keep encouraging the region's youth to enjoy life sensibly.

"It would be in everyone's interest to discourage underage drinking and promote the responsible consumption of alcohol once they come of age," Ms Praetz said.

She said making activities the focus of social engagements, rather than alcohol, could also help.

Horsham College acting principal Graeme Holmes has been a principal for 20 years and been based in a variety of Victorian schools.

Mr Holmes had no doubts drug and alcohol use were affecting student learning throughout the state.

Being new to the region, he could not comment on the Wimmera in detail.

"Some students do tend to have fairly long weekends where they imbibe a bit more than they should," he said.

"That does impact on their attendance, completion of work and their overall achievement levels.

"It is a growing concern."

He said addressing the issue would require a whole-of-community approach.

Mr Holmes said schools needed to continue educating students about the effects of drugs and alcohol and keep working with the community to support young people.

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