By wide margins, Island high school students are still outpacing their peers in the rest of the state when it comes to risky behaviors such as drunk driving, binge drinking and smoking marijuana.
Two weeks after school officials released the results of an anonymous survey of Island teens conducted last February, the state has rolled out its study of a similar survey of more than 4,000 high school students in 64 randomly selected public high schools across the state.
The comparisons are stark.
Island high school students reported driving drunk at a rate more than twice their peers in the rest of Massachusetts. Roughly one in four Vineyard high school students - 26 per cent - said they drove drunk in the previous 30 days. On the state survey, just 12 per cent reported driving drunk in the previous month.
Binge drinking also appears to be more prevalent among Vineyard teenagers. Both surveys defined the behavior as consuming five or more drinks within a couple of hours.
Of the 645 Vineyard high school students who sat down for the survey, 42 per cent said they went on drinking binges in the previous month, compared to 32 per cent in the state survey.
A total of 1,147 Island students in grades six through 12 took the survey. The state version went out only to high schools.
"I'm surprised by the numbers who are drinking and driving, given how effective SafeRides has been and the number of kids who volunteered their time to bring kids home," said regional high school principal Peg Regan. "The resources are there for kids to get rides. And I don't think there are too many parents who wouldn't drive up State road to pick up their child. It's disappointing and discouraging."
SafeRides is a student-run taxi service that operates weekend nights through the school year, offering free rides home to Island teenagers who call the dispatch center.
Island teenagers were slightly less likely to get in a car with a drunk driver than their peers elsewhere in the commonwealth. When asked if they had ridden with a drunk driver in the previous 30 days, 23 per cent said they had taken that risk, compared to 30 per cent who took the statewide survey.
Marijuana use among Vineyard teens continued at higher rates compared to what teens across the state are reporting.
The rate among Vineyard high school students who said they smoked pot in the previous 30 days was 44 per cent. That's almost 50 per cent higher than the state figure of just under 31 per cent.
Island teens - 40 per cent of those surveyed - also reported getting behind the wheel of car after getting high. The state survey didn't ask teens about their driving habits after smoking marijuana.
Mrs. Regan said the drinking and drug use among high school teens could just be a response to boredom. "The Island is remote," she said. "But it's also the tourist economy. This binge drinking thing is part of the let's party-hearty atmosphere here."
The one encouraging comparison to come out of the two surveys was that Vineyard high school students are using condoms at higher rates than their peers in the state.
While 45 per cent of Island high school students report having had sex - almost identical to the 44 per cent statewide - they are practicing at least one form of safe sex, 72 per cent responding that they used a condom the last time they had sex. The figure on the state survey was 58 per cent.
Martha's Vineyard Regional High School makes free condoms available. There are dispensers in both a boy's bathroom and a girl's bathroom in the school and another one in the nurse's office, according to the principal.
While the state survey did not track the behavior of sixth, seventh and eighth-graders, the Vineyard survey found increases in drug and alcohol use and even sex among this age group.
Two years ago, just two per cent of seventh graders and six per cent of eighth graders reported having had sex, according to results of a risk behavior survey.
This year, that figure jumped to 11 per cent of seventh graders and 14 per cent of eighth graders who say they've had sexual intercourse. In raw numbers, that translates to 39 students out of 331 surveyed. Sixth graders were not asked about their sexual experience.
Survey results showed a similar increase in alcohol and drug use, even among sixth graders. While the raw numbers are small, use of marijuana tripled from two per cent to six per cent in two years. That's 30 middle school students saying they smoked pot in the last 30 days.
"For some kids, this is going on. For others it's not. But what I've seen is that by eighth grade, alcohol and marijuana have become a regular part of the routine for a small group," said Dr. Jane Dreeben, director of substance abuse counseling at Island Counseling Center. "It's not unusual for there to be a small core of kids in the seventh and eighth grade that are actively using and experimenting with substances."
Amy Lilavois, a counselor at Island Counseling Center who specializes in adolescent issues, said, "Clearly, things are happening at a younger age. What's scary for me is seeing what happens between eighth and ninth grade, particularly for young girls."
The gateway to high school appears to be a gantlet of risks. "The summer before high school is when it happens," she said. "These girls have low self-esteem and low self-confidence. They're hanging out on Circuit avenue, and older guys - 17 and 18-year-olds - are preying on them, introducing them to drugs and alcohol."
Indeed, marijuana and alcohol use jump markedly between eighth and ninth grades. While nine per cent of eighth graders reported smoking pot, that figure soars to 28 per cent among ninth graders. Alcohol use rises from 18 per cent to 28 per cent in that same period.
Even more troubling, both police and counselors who work with the Island's youth are convinced that the situation as portrayed in the survey results is even more dire in reality.
"I really do feel like all this is under-reported," said Ms. Lilavois.
"Everything is higher than what we're reading," said West Tisbury police chief Beth Toomey. "A certain percentage is denial. But there's also a fear of answering truthfully."
There's a certain amount of frustration coming from people who are battling on this front, trying to improve the decisions that Island teenagers are making.
"Any high school kid still involved in driving drunk or getting in the car with someone who's drunk just isn't paying attention," said Mrs. Regan. "Kids need to be more astute about not letting their friends drive, taking the keys away from them."
As for parents, counselors and schools are always careful about not laying blame. It's the toughest job in the world, said Ms. Dreeben.
But parents need to talk to each other and to their kids.
"The parents and the community need to wake up. You're kidding yourself if you think this isn't happening," said Pam Carelli, founder of the Island SafeRides chapter and head of the high school parent-teacher-student organization. "You need to work from the assumption that your kids will find themselves in a risk and plan for that."