Survey examines high school behaviors
by Kellen Moore
But the Youth Risk Behavior Survey did just that earlier this year, anonymously surveying about 1,130 Watauga High School students about their experiences with bullying, violence, sexual activity, and alcohol and drug use.
The results paint a somewhat startling picture of students’ most critical needs. But the school system is hoping to take the measures one step farther, using the data to determine the need for additional student support programs and gauging the success of existing programs.
“I think we’re only just beginning to wrap our heads around the data,” Clarissa Schmal, student services director for Watauga County Schools.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey has now been implemented three times with financial and administrative help from the Appalachian District Health Department.
The survey was confidential, and parents had to give permission for students to participate, Schmal said.
Schmal selected only a few results from the survey to present Monday to the Board of Education. Among the students who responded:
— Almost one in four reported carrying a weapon in the 30 days prior to the survey. About 10.1 percent had carried a weapon on school property during that time — most frequently pocketknives, she said.
— Exactly 10.38 percent of female respondents reported being physically forced to have sex, compared to 5.89 percent of males.
— Almost one in five reported being bullied on school property, with the highest percentages among ninth graders (26.06 percent) followed by minorities (23.88 percent.)
— Almost twice as many females as males reported being electronically bullied in the previous 12 months.
— Almost one in four reported feeling sadness or hopelessness lasting two weeks or more in the previous year. About 30.29 percent of females responded that way compared to 16.99 percent of males.
— Minorities reported more suicide-related attitudes than white students. Minorities had more than triple the incidences of attempted suicide that led to injury requiring treatment, the survey showed.
— About 60.87 percent of seniors reportedusing alcohol in the lifetimes, compared to 41.52 percent of freshmen.
— Behind alcohol, other prevalent substances included marijuana (used by 39.2 percent of respondents), cigarettes (31.7 percent) and prescription drugs without a prescription (21.5 percent.) Another 12.2 percent reported having used inhalants, 8.5 percent having used cocaine and 5.7 percent having used methamphetamine.
— Exactly 37.8 percent of respondents reported having had sex in their lifetimes, with the highest percentage among minorities (55.22 percent) and the lowest percentage among freshmen (23.71 percent.)
— Of those who were sexually active, more than one in four reported having drunk alcohol or used drugs prior to their last instance of sexual intercourse.
“A lot of those numbers aren’t shocking to me,” said Nick Younger, a WHS senior and student school board member. “I know kids that do all that, and a lot of them aren’t shy about saying it.”
Patrick Williamson, his junior counterpart on the board, agreed. What stood out to him the most, he said, was the data on depression and suicidal thoughts among the student body.
“It’s really scary that you can go to school every day with these students and not know what’s going through their heads when they leave the school,” Williamson said.
That data and more were to be presented this week to the Student Service Committee and school principals, Schmal said. She emphasized the need for continued prevention and education efforts for students.
“We’re continuing to learn, but definitely the data demonstrates a continued local concern in those areas,” Schmal said.
Superintendent David Kafitz said he had discussed the results with the WHS Student Council and discovered two important things.
First, many students did not take the survey seriously, he said.
Second, many students said that their peers who used alcohol got it directly from their parents.
“That’s a huge concern to me,” Kafitz said. “We seem to have an issue with that being enforced at home.”
School system administrators noted that several existing programs are seeing success with students, including the Assessment, Support and Counseling center at WHS. The high school also hosted an anti-bullying program called Rachel’s Challenge in August.
“I think we’ve made great strides,” school board Chairwoman Deborah Miller said. “We still do have a lot of work to do.”