By DAN TOMASELLO
LYNNFIELD — Students’ social-emotional needs and the rise of marijuana use among high school students are growing concerns for Lynnfield school officials.
High School Assistant Principal Kevin Cyr, Middle School Assistant Principal Richele Shankland and Nurse Coordinator Mary Homan presented the 2014 Youth Risk Behavior Survey to the School Committee on Tuesday, Nov. 25. The survey, which was organized by the Health and Wellness Committee, was administered to sixth, ninth and 11th graders last March. A similar survey was administered in 2010.
“We are trying to get a pulse about what is going on,” said Homan.
Homan said the survey provided data on behaviors related to students’ lifestyles, mental health, personal safety, tobacco, alcohol and illegal drug use as well as sexual interactions. School officials will be using the survey to develop programs in order to address particular behaviors and social concerns.
According to Homan, school officials used SurveyMonkey in order to administer the survey. She said questions were used from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System (YRBSS) questionnaire along with additional questions that were targeted to high school students.
Shankland said 161 sixth graders took the survey. Cyr said 155 freshmen and 150 juniors took the survey.
Homan said the survey was “anonymous and confidential,” and students were allowed to skip questions if they felt uncomfortable answering them. The data was compared to state and national averages when available. She said data was electronically compiled in an online database conducted by Health Resources in Action, and responses with unusual patterns were excluded.
According to Homan, there were “some issues” with the survey because some questions only received a few responses. The data from those questions was suppressed for the purposes of statistical reliability and protect privacy.
“I think kids were concerned (the survey) could have been tracked because it was online,” said Homan. “I don’t think they thought those answers were anonymous and confidential.”
Cyr said school officials were “caught off guard” that some questions were left unanswered even though students were told the survey was anonymous.
“If we were to do it all over again, we would make sure students were required to answer every question,” said Cyr.
Shankland said the survey revealed several areas of encouragement. She said 64.4 percent of sixth grade respondents reported being physically active five or more days over the course of a given week. She said 56.6 percent of sixth grade respondents described themselves as about the right weight.
“I think this is really encouraging because generally middle schoolers don’t have a high self image,” said Shankland.
Shankland also noted a majority of students reported they have an adult they feel comfortable talking to about something.
Cyr said 60.6 percent of high school respondents described themselves as being the right weight. Similar to the middle school’s results, the majority of high school students feel comfortable talking to a trusted adult.
Areas of concern
Cyr and Shankland also revealed several areas of concern.
Shankland said 32.1 percent of sixth grade respondents reported being bullied at school during the past 12 months. Shankland said a number of different initiatives have been launched at the middle school, including PTO sponsored assemblies, to address bullying.
“There are a lot of ways we are trying to address bullying, but I am not pleased with the 32 percent,” said Shankland. “I think that will improve.”
Additionally, Shankland said 32.4 percent of sixth grade respondents reported feeling unsafe while riding in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol.
“It’s important for the community to know kids are concerned about this,” said Shankland.
Cyr said 59.3 percent of high school respondents reported smoking marijuana during the past 30 days.
“It’s astounding,” said Cyr. “I think it’s a major problem in the community.”
Cyr said the high school has launched a number of different programs to educate students about illegal drug use. The high school invited former NBA player Chris Herren, who battled heroin addiction, to discuss substance abuse issues to students in all four grades.
According to Cyr, 40.3 percent of high school respondents reported spending three or more hours per day playing video or computer games that are not school related. He also said 26.6 percent of respondents reported talking on a cell phone while driving a car or another vehicle. He said high school officials brought Allstate Insurance’s Teen Drive simulator to LHS to teach students about the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
According to the survey, 18.6 percent of high school respondents and 9.3 percent of middle school respondents reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every single day for two weeks or more, which in turn caused respondents to stop doing some activities.
“That is a really concerning statement,” said Shankland. “We need to help kids feel validated.”
According to the survey, 32.1 percent of middle school respondents reported being bullied over the course of a year. Cyr said 23.3 percent of high school respondents reported being bullied over the course of the past 12 months, but he also had some reservations about the statistic.
Additionally, the survey revealed 11.9 percent of high school respondents and 19.3 percent of middle school respondents reported being cyberbullied over the course of a year.
The survey revealed 18.4 percent of high school respondents reported using at least one contraception method the last time they had sex.
According to the survey, 19.9 percent of sixth grade respondents reported having a “blow or jolt to the head.” The data also revealed 2.4 percent of sixth grade respondents reported they rarely or never wear a seatbelt. Additionally, 15 percent of middle school respondents reported not wearing a helmet while riding a bike, and 27.4 percent reported they don’t wear a helmet while rollerblading or skateboarding.
Cyr said 15.8 percent of high school students reported having a “blow or jolt to the head.” He said 21.50 percent of high school students reported texting while driving.
According to the survey, 41.8 percent of high school respondents reported having at least one alcoholic drink and 24.10 percent said they had five or more drinks in a row. Cyr noted alcohol is easily accessible at home. He said the high school has a policy where if a student-athlete is in possession of alcohol, they will be suspended for an entire sports season.
In response to a survey question about drug and tobacco use, Cyr said 31.20 percent of high school respondents reported using marijuana. He said 7.10 percent of students reported abusing prescription drugs.
“Prescription drug use and education around prescription drug use needs to be a priority,” said Cyr.
Cyr also noted 18.80 percent of high school respondents reported smoking cigarettes, 7.20 percent reported using chewing tobacco and 19.60 percent reported smoking cigars.
Cyr, Shankland and Holman unveiled a series of recommendations to the School Committee to better meet students’ needs.
Cyr said the two schools would benefit from a school resource officer, which Superintendent of Schools Jane Tremblay has discussed with Police Chief David Breen. Cyr said a school resource officer will help improve communication between the school and police departments as well as address some issues outlined in the survey.
In addition to a school resource officer, school officials also recommended hiring a full-time adjustment counselor for the high school to address students’ social-emotional needs. School officials also recommended increasing communication to outside providers.
Special Services Director Kara Mauro wants to launch a transitional learning program at the high school to help students re-integrate into the school after they have been absent due to social-emotional issues.
“The idea behind this is to allow students to re-enter school gradually and give them the support they need,” said Mauro.
“We are in need of a program like this to transition these kids back into school,” said Cyr. “Our number goal is to keep kids in school.”
School Committee Chairman Chris Barrett said its apparent to him the school department needs to hire a full-time adjustment counselor for the high school. He also said a school resource officer is needed.
In response to a question from School Committee member Jamie Hayman, Tremblay said school officials are working toward improving the school department’s relationship with the police department. She said she has spent a lot of time with Breen since the beginning of the school year, and said both departments are committed to improving their working relationship.
“Chief Breen is very interested in working collaboratively with the schools,” said Tremblay. “We have been in constant communication about how we can make our relationship more proactive than reactive. If you have a working relationship with someone from the get go, you can hit the ground immediately during a crisis.”
School Committee member Dorothy Presser agreed.
“We need students need to feel safe in order for them to learn,” said Presser.
Tremblay proposed having the school department create its own youth risk survey in the future to try and avoid some of the inconsistencies that were included in the survey. Cyr, Shankland and Homan expressed their support for the request, but noted someone has to analyze the data after its compiled.