Survey reveals issues with bullying and substance use at Summit County schools
September 12, 2018
Bullying and substance use are growing concerns for middle and high school students all around the state, but are things worse here in Summit County?
The Summit School District recently released their "School Snapshot" results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — a biennial survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment meant to shed light on students' opinions and conduct regarding things like mental health, substance use, safety, violence, physical health and more.
More than 87 percent of Summit High School students and 82 percent of Summit Middle School students responded to the survey in October 2017. The snapshot helps to localize and contextualize the data provided by the schools by juxtaposing it against statewide numbers. While the Summit School District performed relatively well in most categories — showing positive results compared to statewide numbers — other areas like bullying and substance use may be a concern.
According to the report, 55.2 percent of students at Summit Middle School reported being bullied on school property, compared to just 44.1 percent statewide. At the high school, 20.8 percent of students reported being bullied, compared to 18.1 percent in Colorado. Similarly, both middle and high school students reported higher rates of electronic bullying, and reported involvement in more physical fights than the rest of the state.
"This is the area where the middle school is going to be doing more work," said Julie McCluskie, director of communications and community engagement for Summit School District. "Our students tell us that they've been bullied on school property at 55 percent, higher than the state average. Our focus this year will be working with kids so they know what to do if they feel bullied or witness another student being bullied. So working on skill building and the reporting of things like that."
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McCluskie said the school is working to integrate bullying into its social and emotional curriculum, known as "Second Step." The curriculum also dives into how to advocate for yourself or friends facing depression and anxiety, how to identify signs of suicide or self-harm in others, how to build skills like empathy and other non-traditional subjects.
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McCluskie noted that the latest curriculum has already shown to pay dividends in the area of mental health, and the data supports her claim. At the middle school, 21.3 percent of students said they felt sad or helpless two weeks in a row or more, 14.3 percent said they have considered suicide and 4.3 percent said they have attempted suicide. At the high school 27.9 percent said they felt sad two or more weeks in a row, 12.5 percent considered suicide in the last year and 5.3 percent said they'd attempted suicide in the last year. All of these figures are lower than statewide numbers.
In addition, more than 89 percent of middle school and 87 percent of high school students said they have someone to talk to when feeling sad or hopeless, better than the 83 percent marks statewide for both middle and high school students.
Despite the relatively favorable numbers, the school district still feels there's room for improvement.
"Over the last five years we've seen a rise in the number of students who express stress, anxiety and depression," said McCluskie. "There's also been an increase in students threatening self-harm and suicide. That's been a focus for us the last few years. Our numbers are lower than state averages, but it's always concerning if kids have those feelings. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure no child feels lost, alone or does anything to harm themselves."
McCluskie said that in addition to the social and emotional curriculum, the school recently added new school counselors to the staff, along with a school social worker. The school district also utilized the Safe2Tell anonymous reporting system, providing students the opportunity to let someone know if they're worried about a friend harming themselves, being bullied, violence or concerned about substance abuse.
Substance use is another trouble area for the district. While respondents from the middle school reported lower substance use than the rest of the state across the board, Summit's high school students reported considerably higher rates of use. More than 41 percent of high school students said they'd drank alcohol in the last 30 days, compared to just 28.7 percent statewide. Over 40 percent said they'd used a vaporizer or e-cigarette within the past 30 days, compared to 27 percent statewide. Students also reported higher usage rates of marijuana and cigarettes.
"The level we are most concerned about in the high school is vaping," said McCluskie. "Over the 15 years our community has been a part of this survey, our kids have generally reported higher usage of alcohol, marijuana and drugs than the state average. We are similar to other resort communities, in that we struggle with youth substance abuse at higher levels than across the state. That is not an excuse. We take these results seriously, and we don't want to see our kids taking illegal substances, alcohol or marijuana underage.
"But what we saw in this year's results that was particularly concerning was the use of e-cigarettes and vaping. What we're most concerned about is that students believe vaping doesn't present harm the way cigarettes do."
McCluskie said that the school will be hosting a parents night, likely sometime later this month, to talk to parents about vaping, how they can talk to their children on the subject, and generally inform them of the risks. In addition, the school will be taking part in a pilot program conducted by RMC Health to develop staff training to try and address marijuana use in students.
While there were some concerning data points in the study, there were also areas, along with mental health, where the Summit School District thrived compared to the rest of the state. At the middle school students reported having physical education classes at least once a week (99.3 percent) at a substantially higher rate than other schools (65.5 percent), as well as higher rates of participation on sports team (73.5 percent compared to 64.7 percent) and even less screen time on school days. Also of note, both middle and high school students seem to eat better than their counterparts in the rest of the state, with higher rates of students saying they ate vegetables and fruit, and drank less soda.
As the schools look to remedy issues in bullying and substance use, as well as to improve on already strong areas, they also believe that the students' families and communities at large must take active steps to keep kids safe and healthy.
"The school district takes our responsibility to keep kids safe and healthy very seriously, but we can't do it alone," said McCluskie. "When our parents are engaging not only with the school work, but also being supportive of social and emotional challenges the kids are facing, those kids will be more successful and safe…there are concerns for us in this data. What's important now is that we respond to that as a school district and as a community. Nothing is more important."
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