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Amherst school and town officials have released the results of a survey that shows students in the town's three school districts -- Amherst Central, Williamsville and Sweet Home -- had more assets than they did in 1995.

Assets are factors such as having positive adult role models, volunteering, caring about school and having high self-esteem, according to the Search Institute in Minnesota, which designed the survey.

"These are the strengths we need to build within our children," said Henry Peters, an assistant superintendent in the Williamsville School District.

The survey was given to 3,270 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 1997. The respondents were guaranteed anonymity.

When the survey was first given in 1995, students had an average of 17 of 40 possible assets. Two years later, the number climbed to 19.

For comparison, the Search Institute says that nationally the average number of assets is 17.3. The idea is that the more assets students have, the better they will do in school and the less likely they are to drink, use drugs or have sex.

In addition to assets, the survey also found several other positive increases:

50 percent said their parents were involved with their school life -- up 7 percent.

47 percent said their teachers cared about them -- up 7 percent.

School involvement increased. Sixty-six percent play a sport -- up 15 percent, and 52 percent belong to a school club -- up 7 percent.

61 percent of students were involved in religious activities -- up 10 percent.

Few new programs were started since 1995, but officials at the forum said awareness and cooperation between school districts and various agencies had increased.

But not all the news in the survey was good.

For example, 26 percent of students had shoplifted. Another 14 percent had an eating disorder and 13 percent said they tried to kill themselves.

Another troubling result was that fewer students were using birth control or condoms. Only 55 percent of students always used birth control -- down 6 percent from 1995.

Also, the number of students smoking and drinking climbed about 1 or 2 percent.

"Even though the assets went up, so did some of the negative behavior," said Mary-Diana Pouli, program coordinator for the Amherst Youth Board. "Behavior won't change until assets are in the 30 to 40 range. . . . The more assets you have, the less risky behavior you'll participate in."

A summary or a complete copy of the survey is available by calling the Amherst Youth Board.

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