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Survey paints mixed picture of Summit County student behavior

Kathryn Corazzelli
Summit Daily News
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While Summit High School kids’ alcohol use has slackened and levels of physical activity have risen in the past few years, levels of depression, marijuana and tobacco use have climbed, according to a recently complied health survey.

The Healthy Kids Colorado survey, conducted in October 2010, is administered every few years to both middle and high school children as a partnership between the Summit School District and the Summit Prevention Alliance. Last year’s results are compared to the those of the previous survey, conducted in 2007, along with some state and nationwide statistics.

“Obviously we’re very concerned about the health and well-being of our students, and this is a great opportunity for us to get that glimpse into some of the behaviors and attitudes of our kids,” Gretchen Nies, Summit High assistant principal said.

The survey consists of 156 questions, divided into categories, including physical health and fitness, substance abuse, mental health, sexual health, personal safety, delinquency and parental support.

Nies said while the survey was optional, almost 100 percent of students responded: 811 at the high school and 614 at the middle school.

Results were presented to the Board of Education at its last meeting.

Among the highlights at the middle school: Risk factors have declined or kept steady, while “protective factors” have increased. Favorable parental attitude towards drug use decreased 5 percent, while early initiation to drug use or anti-social behavior stayed steady at about 38 percent.

Protective factors, like involvement in sports and clubs also increased. Anti-bullying campaigns seem to have been effective, as the reported number of student experience decreased from almost 50 percent in 2007 to 40 in 2010.

But, one of the biggest red flags – in both middle and high school respondents – was the reported levels of depression.

“At both our middle school and high school, the statistics came out high compared to national averages,” Kari Read, executive director of SPA said.

At the middle school, 22 percent of respondents reported feeling depressed, and at the high school 32 percent of students reported the same, up 5 percent from 2007. The national average is 9 percent. Suicide contemplation rate at the high school was 20 percent, with 15 percent saying they’d attempted it.

“That’s a pretty scary number,” school board member J Kent McHose said.

Alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use at the high school are also above state averages, even though alcohol use is down to 45 percent from 47 percent in 2007. Tobacco use increased from 18 to 23 percent from 2007 to 2010. Marijuana use has gone up “significantly” from 20 percent in 2007 to 30 percent in 2010; Read surmises, while the SPA has no concrete evidence, the increase in users could be the result of the drug’s recent decriminalization in Breckenridge. The 2007 survey was conducted before the change.

“It leads us to believe it sent a powerful message about what may or may not be OK,” Read said.

At the school board meeting, Summit High principal Drew Adkins said while he wasn’t surprised by the alcohol and marijuana statistics, the depression and suicide percentages were shockers. He expressed disbelief over some of the survey results – namely, an increase in high school students who said they’ve done hard drugs like cocaine, heroin or ecstasy.

“If our kids are using it, they’re doing a good job hiding it,” he said.

Read said the SPA is currently working to verify that data.

Also at the high school, 40 percent reported being harassed or bullied, while about 15 percent said they had been hit or slapped by a boyfriend or girlfriend. The 2007 survey did not ask the same questions regarding high school bullying.

But, 90 percent of students surveyed consistently reported in both 2007 and 2011 they aspired to graduate from high school, attend college and desired a career. Another bright spot: Summit County’s teen pregnancy rate is down compared to other counties.

Summit Youth Services Center is a wonderful source for students to seek help for depression or other mental health issues, Nies said. The on-site health resource is upping their behavioral health offerings to 60 hours a week at the middle and high schools this year, compared to 48 last school year. Also, peer counseling services are offered, in case a student doesn’t feel comfortable talking with an adult.

As for tobacco rates, SPA has ongoing community outreach programs and continues to work at the schools to educate kids on tobacco.

Another good way to help prevent bad behaviors: parental involvement. There are plenty of opportunities for parents to keep abreast of what’s going on at school, like the Parent Teacher Student Association, Nies said. The perception is as kids grow older, there’s not as much as a need to be involved, but really, it’s more, she added.

Setting up informational meetings for parents with SPA may be in the school’s future. A community-wide collaborative, not just efforts from the school or parents at home could help change negative behaviors.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” Read said.

UPDATED to correct information about tobacco rates.


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