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A survey about drugs, drinking, violence and other behavior will be conducted Feb. 8 in sixth- through 12th-grade classrooms in Niagara Falls public schools.

The School Board heard about the survey last week from Meg Pietras, program coordinator for the district's drug prevention effort.

The district began exposing pupils to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, commonly called DARE, in 1995.

Pietras said, "When we do this survey in February, we'll be able to tell with students in (grades) 6 through 12 whether they've had DARE and whether it's had an effect or not."

The 87-question survey asks students about their history with narcotics, alcohol and smoking.

It will inquire about their sexual activity; whether they've considered suicide; whether they've been exposed to or participated in violent acts on or off school property; whether they eat enough fruits and vegetables; and whether they get enough exercise. Results are expected to be compiled after spring break.

Cynthia Bianco, assistant to the superintendent, told the board, "The intent is to get grant money to deal with these risk behaviors."

Pietras said, "We'll be setting goals and objectives once we see what the results are."

She said the survey will be optional and parents will be allowed to direct that their children not take it. However, no permission slip will be sent home; parents will have to take the initiative, a process Pietras called "passive consent."

When a similar survey was conducted in 1997, Pietras said, "I don't know of any students who were not allowed to take it."

On another topic, Timothy Bellonte, director of the district's teacher resource center, reported on the faculty's handiness with computers -- or the lack thereof.

A survey of 570 staffers determined that most have a good handle on basic computer functions, but improvement is still needed on more elaborate applications, such as spreadsheets, preparing presentations, graphics and multimedia uses.

Bellonte said the middle school faculties seem to be farther ahead than their elementary and high school counterparts. He attributed this to the "team planning model" used in the middle schools. "It brings people up by their bootstraps," he said.

Newly hired teachers aren't necessarily much better with technology than old-timers, Bellonte said. "We assume because they're younger, they're good in technology. It isn't always the case," he said.

Trustee Jeanette Stypa said, "It's interesting that some of our students are better-versed and more effective in computers than our staff."

Bellonte replied, " 'If you have a problem, ask the nearest 12-to-14-year-old' is very true in our culture."

He said the district has a five-year plan to get teachers to integrate technology into their daily classroom presentations. Bellonte said: "There's no data out there that shows that technology use leads to better student performance. That's what we're looking for."

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