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The original item was published from 12/4/2018 11:52:36 AM to 2/28/2019 10:57:25 AM.

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Human Services

Posted on: December 4, 2018

[ARCHIVED] IN THE NEWS: Greenwich student survey yields surprising results

Greenwich student survey yields surprising results

By Jo Kroeker Updated 9:43 am EST, Thursday, November 29, 2018            

GREENWICH — Substance abuse, cyberbullying, social media use and the power of parent influence: The town Prevention Council surveyed about 3,000 middle school and high school students on these and other topics earlier this year.

Results of the survey will be released next week, but some educators and council members have spoken on its broader themes.

Responses revealed parents have a strong influence on their children — a surprising finding that could shift how the council’s 32 members, from education, law enforcement and health sectors, will approach educating young people, Commissioner of Greenwich Department of Human Services Alan Barry said Tuesday.  

“We focus all of our efforts on the kids,” Barry said. “That may not be the most effective strategy. It may be more working with the adults.”

Students said they were almost half as likely to try drugs if their parents expressed their disapproval of them.

 “Parents will be pleasantly surprised, or interested to learn, that their view of whether or not they approve of those behaviors has a lot more efficacy than parents believe they have,” Greenwich Country Day School Upper School Director Anthony Bowes said earlier this fall after educators saw a preview of the survey results.

The anonymous survey was filled out by students from Greenwich Public Schools, Greenwich Academy, Brunswick School, Greenwich Country Day School, Greenwich Catholic School, Stanwich School, Whitby School and Sacred Heart Greenwich in February. Full results will be revealed Dec. 4.

Despite the positive influence parents can have, many students still indulge in harmful or risky behaviors, according to preliminary survey results.

 Nearly 5 percent of eighth-graders smoked an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, according to the survey. That percentage jumps to 13 percent of ninth-graders, and almost 36 percent of high school seniors reported vaping in the last month.

 The data confirmed the instincts of public and private school administrators. They suspected the rise of e-cigarette use, and said it shows the importance of managing the transition from middle school to high school in preventing substance abuse.

 “As adults, we have a sense of when that happens, but that’s a gut feeling based on anecdotes,” Bowes said. “This is the students self-reporting when they start engaging in those behaviors.”

Sandrine Utzinger, a school psychologist for Stanwich School, said she was relieved prescription drug use was low, considering the nationwide epidemic.

Students are more likely to take stimulants without a prescription, 6 percent of seniors, than they are to use drugs such as oxycodone, less than 1 percent.

Alcohol is still the most popular substance of choice. Five percent of eighth-graders and 14 percent of ninth-graders reported drinking in the last month, a percentage that increased steadily to 55 percent in senior year.

 Almost 37 percent of seniors drink at home, and 45 percent drink in other people’s homes.

 “It’s always helpful to see that alcohol remains the biggest risk for kids,” Tom Sullivan, Greenwich Academy head of upper school, said in response to the preliminary results. “Certainly, you could see e-cigs were concerning, but it helped us reaffirm our baseline understanding.”

 The survey also gauged if students feel supported by their communities, loved and accepted by family and friends, and have opportunities outside of school to develop new skills and interests with others.

 “It’s about how we value our youth and how our youth feel valued,” said Ingrid Gillespie, executive director of Communities 4 Action, a regional resource for education on substance abuse.

 Greenwich students feel supported by their families, but the town can increase and improve its after-school offerings, she said.

 “How students are using their free time is a critical factor in looking at students’ engagement in risky behaviors,” Interim Superintendent of Greenwich Public Schools Ralph Mayo said.

 The survey also found students often feel insecure in their own identities, which Utzinger said did not surprise her, because children worry about maintaining perfect images on social media.

 “There’s been a rise in how they feel about themselves and how they compare to that picture or like they see online,” she said.

 If schools teach students how to view themselves positively and not compare themselves to others, it will impact which crowds students choose to go with, which will impact what they expose themselves to and what they will do to fit in, she said.

 Fitting in would motivate 56 percent of seniors to try a new drug.

 Middle school students said they started drinking and smoking to prepare for high school, and high schoolers to prepare for college, Barry said.

 Bowes said the data will help Greenwich Country Day as it expands to include students in grades 10 through 12.

 “We couldn’t have gotten this information at a better time,” Bowes said. “We’re going to have to deal with issues we haven’t had to deal with in the past, and educate kids we haven’t been responsible for in the past.”

 The survey, which cost $11,000 to administer, was paid for by the Board of Education and participating Greenwich private schools.

 The Prevention Council will use the data to apply for a $125,000 per year grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services Substance to support drug-free communities.

 In the immediate future, the data will inform the creation of student focus groups and a survey of adults, Barry said.

 “We have to start thinking outside the box,” he said. “You just can’t say ‘No,’ but also, we’re seeing the influence adults and parents have.”

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