At the December school board meeting Monday evening, USD 428 Director of Curriculum John Popp presented the 2013 Kansas Communities that Care survey results. They provide a picture of how students in the district feel the community and schools are doing in addressing serious issues like drug and alcohol use and abuse and bullying in schools. Board members learned students in the district had more struggles with the prevalence of drugs and alcohol than the state average, but that some of the measures undertaken by the district to combat bullying were having a positive results.
Students were asked to rate certain risk factors that increase the likelihood that they could engage in negative or antisocial behavior in their teens and early adult years. While perceptions of students in the district differed less than two percent than those statewide, a few were significantly higher and lower.
Students in USD 428, for instance, felt less attachment to their neighborhoods, friends’ use of drugs was higher, as was antisocial involvement. Also, while low to begin with, gang involvement was higher in the district at 13.41 percent, compared with statewide at 11.45.
On the plus side, students surveyed felt there was less family conflict, early initiation of drug use, and family history of antisocial behavior than the rest of the state.
Smoking, drugs and alcohol use
In the 30-day use data, comparing the state to the district over a four year period from 2009 to 2013, the district showed higher use of cigarettes in every year. However, the number of students who reported smoking a cigarette one or more times in the past 30 days dropped by almost a third in one year. In 2012, 12 percent of surveyed students had smoked, while in 2013, only 8.7 percent had.
Even better results are reported for use of marijuana one or more times in the past 30 days. The highest use year of the four was 2012, at 12.3 percent. That dropped to 8.37 percent in 2013, nearly in line with the rest of the state, and almost back to the district low in 2009.
Alcohol use, however, continues to be well above the norm within the district compared to the state, over the entire four year period. But in 2013, it dropped to the lowest ever, at 25.27 reporting they’d used in the past month. That’s lower than the state average for 2009 of 25.63 percent. In 2013, the statewide percentage was 20.87. Again, 2012 was the high year for the district, with 30.60 percent of students surveyed reporting use.
One category, Protective Factors, speaks to the effectiveness of the schools and community in making students feel that they and their families matter to decision makers. While in many categories, again, there was only minimal difference between the district and the state, students did feel there was more opportunity for school involvement and a higher belief in a moral order than the rest of the state.
Some areas that sagged below the rest of the state were a perception of family rewards for positive involvement at nearly 4 percent less than the state, and community rewards for positive behavior, at over 6 percent less than the rest of the state.
The data about bullying shows efforts to reduce the antisocial behavior may not be working as well as hoped. For instance, the number of students that reported missing school because they felt unsafe, uncomfortable or nervous at school or on their way to or from school steadily rose from 9.37 percent in 2009 to 11. 71 percent in 2013. That’s higher than the state average of 10.51 percent.
However, fewer students report having been bullied at school. Only 26.19 percent in the district reported yes, compared to statewide at 29.63 percent. While that’s still less than ideal, it has gone down from the high of 28.35 in the district in 2011.
Students are still witnessing more bullying than they experience, however. But the district and state are almost aligned in this category. Fewer students are ignoring it or considering it none of their business though, opting instead to report it to a teacher or another adult.
When asked what adults do at school when they see bullying, over 40 percent said they stop it and solve the problem, just under 20 percent said they stop it and tell everyone to leave, while about 30 percent were not certain and 10 percent felt it was ignored.
Board member Dwight Young commented at the meeting that while he was impressed with the results and the level of participation in the survey, he had long felt disappointment that the survey did not address other social issues, like issues related to sexual activity. Young is the director of the Center for Counseling in Great Bend.
In USD 428, the survey was given to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. Participation among 6th graders was 86.53 percent, and among students in 12th grade, 65.35 percent, both higher than the state average. Total participation was 75.35 percent in the district, and 68.32 percent statewide. According to KCTC, generally 60% participation is acceptable for planning purposes and 80% participation is needed for evaluation.
The district will make the survey available again in January, Popp said. Statewide, the survey is offered to all districts and all schools who have students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Participation in the survey is completely voluntary for every district and every student eligible for participation.
The KCTC website states a parent letter is sent home with students two weeks prior to the date of administration, informing them of the study and giving them the option to decline their child’s participation if they desire to do so. Students who take part will take the survey in classrooms during a normal class period if possible. In Kansas, approximately 250 districts and 90,000 students take part in the survey annually.