Friday, February 16, 2001
Panel discusses youth risk survey
Kathy Bowen, health education coordinator for Concord schools, and a panel of concerned professionals came before the January 30 meeting of the Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee to present a panel discussion on the results of Emerson Hospital's Youth Risk Behavior Survey and how the community has responded to these results. Panel members were Alcott social worker Chris Gill, Concord Middle School (CMS) health educator Bernard Wenstrom, CMS psychologist Barbara Miller, CCHS social worker Kelli Kirshtein, Paul Macone of the Concord police and David Holdorf representing the Concord-Carlisle Community Chest and the Concord-Carlisle Action Committee for Teens (ACTS).
Slightly more safe in 2000
Bowen outlined a brief history of the survey, which was first administered to sixth, eighth and eleventh graders in 1998. The survey was repeated in March 2000 and results were released recently. Since Carlisle schools did not participate in 1998 and 2000, the only Carlisle students included in the survey were high school students at CCHS.
Comparing 1998 and 2000 results the frequency of risky behaviors declined slightly in the communities tested. Eleventh graders at CCHS showed little difference in cocaine use or sexual intercourse at least once in their lifetime, and "trying to lose weight." There was a significant increase in alcohol consumption with 81.8 percent reporting at least one use, versus 75.4 percent in 1998.
One of the most significant results of the survey was the formation of ACTS. After evaluating survey results, ACTS members identified three principal areas of concern: substance abuse, depression and suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders. ACTS seeks to identify ways to decrease the risks of these behaviors. Because teenagers who lack allies during adolescence tend to be at greater risk for self destructive behaviors, ACTS has advocated for programs that involve students in school and community life. One of the programs that was given priority was reviving WIQH, the high school radio station. The station has more than 100 students involved, many of whom are not involved in other co-curricular activities. The radio station has been funded by donations from the community. The superintendent's proposed budget recommends taking on a portion of the budget to help insure the continuation of this co-curricular activity.
Alcohol use increasing
Kirshtein addressed the alcohol use figures from the survey, pointing out that these figures are consistent with national statistics. Significant in the survey is the increase in alcohol use at age 12. In response to concerns expressed by community members in the audience, Kirstein suggested that parental permissiveness is a problem and that a lot of time is spent with parents with unrealistic ideas about what are safe parameters for children. She related that students will communicate freely when given the opportunity and that activities involving parents and students can make a significant difference.
Gill addressed bullying, low self esteem, problematic peer relations, tolerance and respect, suggesting that elementary school is the staging ground for middle school and high school, where tension and uncertainty feed into student interactions.
Miller spoke about how to create a comfortable environment for middle school students. She spoke of peer mediation. The sixth grade in Concord requires that students review and sign a contract defining bullying. Students read the definitions and consequences in hopes of giving a clear message of what constitutes bullying and harassment. She also spoke of the increase in weight concerns, eating disorders, and obesity, pointing out that type two diabetes is increasing. She spoke of an eighth grade curriculum that addresses nutrition and body image issues.
Wenstrom spoke of how he talks with students about risk with a focus positive risk vs. negative risk. He tries to make kids understand that every negative risk sets you up for another.
Macone was credited by other panel members with being largely responsible for getting the radio station revived. He addressed the table on violence-related behaviors. Past incidents involving treatening graffitti on bathroom walls while disturbing, are common across the commonwealth. Officials are getting inundated with reports of this type of occurrence.
Concord School Committee vice chair Pat Sinot asked Macone if alcohol use at the high school has become an increasing problem. Macone stated that alcohol use has been a constant problem. When Sinot inquired about the sources of alcohol, Macone stated that they included older siblings, fake IDs, older friends, and going out of town to package stores that don't card. He related how Concord police worked with Boston police to target a mom and pop store in Boston that was determined to be a source for alcohol coming into Concord. He also told of a sting last year that dealt with an individual that was providing alcohol to high school students.
Programs for students and parents
David Holdorf from the Community Chest commended Macone on his involvement with the radio station and spoke about the formation of ACTS. Some of the other programs formed in response to the concerns outlined include once-a-month coffee houses, safe rides program, community education workshops, teen-parent forums, call a parent (where parents can share experiences), and professional development in the schools.
Committee chair Lawrence Walters stated that the survey results report is detailed and interesting and it would be useful if it were on a website. Committee member Fred Wersan says it can be put on to the committee website if the text is made available to him in an electronic format.
Kathy Bowen said that she can be reached at 318-1510 x144 or x149 for those interested in more information.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito