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Survey says: Janesville tracks school climate, mental health

Janesville Gazette - 9/9/2018

Sept. 09--JANESVILLE -- Risky behaviors are down in Janesville schools, but the way students feel about themselves and their school environments has gotten worse.

That information plus hundreds of other data points regarding drugs, alcohol, sexual behavior, sexual identity, screen time and physical activity all are part of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey that's given statewide.

Janesville school officials and other professionals acknowledge that while such survey data can be useful, it should be treated as a single piece of information and not the complete picture.

The latest results are from a survey given to high school students in 2017.

Janesville's results match the statewide results. Use of tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs are down, but depression is up, according to the Department of Public Instruction's final report.

Students locally and statewide also report more screen time, less sleep and poorer health, according to the report.


The results are broken down by grade, gender and, in some cases, how peers or parents felt about specific behaviors.

Because these are only highlights, the percentages don't add up to 100.

* Tobacco use in the past 30 days: Cigarettes: 91 percent not at all; 2 percent every day. Vaping/e-cigarettes: 78 percent not at all, 4 percent every day. Chewing tobacco: 96 percent not at all, 1 percent every day.

* Alcohol use in the past 30 days: 81 percent none at all, 11 percent one or two days, 1 percent everyday.

* Using prescription drugs without a doctor's permission in the past 30 days: 93 percent not at all, 3 percent one or two days, 1 percent every day.

* Binge drinking in the past 30 days: 89 percent not at all, 4 percent one day.

* Marijuana use in the past 30 days: 84 percent not at all; 5 percent one or two times, 4 percent three to nine times, 3.11 percent 40 or more times.

The results also show that students whose parents considered such activities wrong were less likely to be involved in such behavior.

Students were up to 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behavior if they'd been through a traumatic situation in the past year.

Other results showed that about:

* 28 percent reported spending five or more hours a day playing video games or on screen time.

* 24 percent seriously contemplated suicide.

* 5 percent said they go hungry because there is not enough food in their homes "always" or "most of the time."

* 64 percent said they felt accepted at school "always" or "most of the time."

Survey value

Kim Peerenboom, head of pupil services for the Janesville School District, said the survey is useful but is only one tool in the toolbox.

Students are surveyed every two years, so the information is being collected from different groups of students, she said.

Mark Schroeder-Strong, UW-Whitewater associate professor of educational foundations, agrees and warned against trying to establish trend lines based on data from different groups spread across years.

Still, he said, such surveys probably "paint a pretty fair picture" of the group of students who took the survey.

"You will probably have more under-reporting based on the overall structure of the survey," he said.

Studies have shown that if predominate culture says a behavior is bad or if your peers and parents think its bad, people will be more likely to under report.

Even in anonymous surveys, people want to "align their sense of self and their behavior to what is approved," Schroeder-Strong noted.

Like Peerenboom, Schroeder-Strong thought the data was good for what it was: one set of information but not the whole story.

The district is working to improve the "climate" in schools and recently started using the Gallup Hope Poll, a 24-question survey that measures engagement in school, hope, career aspirations and the career and financial literacy of students.

It was first given last school year.

Those results show the majority of students have hope for the future and see themselves accomplishing something. That's different from the youth survey results, in which students reported more anxiety.

Using the poll every year will help the district track progress--or lack thereof--from changes made to improve the school environment, Peerenboom said.


(c)2018 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

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