Survey: Safety issues vex students
Only 18 percent say they feel ‘very safe’ at SVHS
Less than one in five 11th-graders at Sonoma Valley High feels very safe at school, according to the latest California Healthy Kids Survey.
The biennial survey was given last spring to fifth , seventh , ninth and 11th graders around the state. The survey looked at questions such as alcohol use, marijuana use, tobacco use, safety issues such as gang membership, carrying a weapon, and health and safety issues such as eating habits and general safety.
At Tuesday night’s Sonoma Valley Unified School District board meeting, the trustees got a look at the survey.
Student Services Director Nanci Mathison said that, with the exception of the fifth graders, the survey was based on passive consent, meaning that unless parents objected, the student took the survey. Last year, 278, or 84 percent of Sonoma Valley seventh-graders, took the survey; 258, or 70 percent of ninth-graders and 248, or 75 percent of 11th graders took the survey.
Even though the survey was taken last spring, the district just received the results, Mathison said.
“A survey instrument is considered ‘reliable’ if answers to a question would remain constant over a period of time,” she told the board. “Several similar questions are asked in different ways to evaluate the internal test reliability. Based on these self-checks, the survey results for SVUSD ‘appear reliable and are a good reflection of student behavior,’ according to a WestEd report.”
WestEd, according to its website, is a research, development and service agency that works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve equity and improve learning for children, youth and adults.
Mathison also told the board that while some students under-report certain activities, others over-report which evens out the data results.
“Some of our data looks good,” she said. “But other data doesn’t look good.”
She said she’ll see how Sonoma Valley stacks up to other county districts at an April 15 meeting at the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Among the findings was the revelation that, in the 30 days before the survey, 9 percent of seventh-graders, 20 percent of ninth-graders and 40 percent of 11th-graders said they had used alcohol. When it came to marijuana, 4 percent of seventh-graders, 12 percent of ninth-graders and 25 percent of 11th-graders admitted to smoking marijuana in the 30 days prior to the survey.
Mathison told the board that suspensions and expulsions at the high school have declined over the past year, and that most were for drug and alcohol offenses. She also said that her counterparts around the county had noticed the same thing.
The survey also asked if students had ever carried weapons or belonged to a gang. Two percent of seventh-graders, no ninth graders and 3 percent of 11th graders admitted to carrying at gun at least once. As far as gang membership, 5 percent of seventh-graders, 6 percent of ninth-graders and 7 percent of 11th-graders admitted to belonging to a gang.
But only 18 percent of ninth-graders and 18 percent of 11th-graders said they felt very safe at school.
Boardmember Gary DeSmet was dismayed with that figure. “Less than one in five kids feels very safe,” he said. “That troubles me.”
“And 24 percent of 11th-graders have had a safety-related incident in the past 12 months,” he continued. “Although the fear of being beaten up has fallen.”
Board president Dan Gustafson pointed out that for 11th-graders, the fear of being beaten up has fallen from 76 percent in the 2003 survey to 14 percent in the latest survey.
Boardmember Helen Marsh said she thought the last 30 days figure was more relevant than the historical figures.
“There’s also a perception that marijuana isn’t as harmful as alcohol,” she said. “And that’s a perception shared by many adults as well. The community feels that alcohol is a benign substance. But not for kids – and some adults as well.”
Both Marsh and DeSmet also seized on the fact that a number of students come to school without any breakfast.
“I see that one out of three (students) are not eating breakfast,” he said. “I wonder how many of them aren’t eating lunch either.”
Marsh said that if one skips breakfast, it’s a long time to lunch. But free lunches are available.
The board accepted the report.