Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 5, 2012

Students report better mental health

Palo Alto officials concerned about substance abuse, though

by Chris Kenrick

Palo Alto youth are emotionally healthier than they were two years ago, according to newly released data from the California Healthy Kids Survey.

The percentage of ninth- and 11th-graders who said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months dropped from 18 percent to 11 percent. Percentages also dropped for ninth- and 11th-graders who reported feeling "so sad and hopeless" for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some of their usual activities.

The survey, given statewide every two years, measures risk and resiliency factors for seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders.

"Some of the measures that we as a community have been most focused on, like suicide ideation and student depression, are heading in the right direction," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Thursday.

However, "the data also support the need for continued, concerted efforts across the PAUSD community to address student health and wellness needs," school district staff members said in a report.

For example, the percentage of seventh-graders who reported feeling "sad and hopeless" went up from 17 percent in 2009-10 to 19 percent in 2011-12, the report said.

Skelly will present major points of the survey to the Board of Education Tuesday, Oct. 9, and has posted the full survey online at http://pausd.org/parents/programs/studentconnectedness/index.shtml.

The school district and community took a host of initiatives to boost student social-emotional health and school "connectedness" following a string of Palo Alto student deaths by suicide in 2009 and 2010.

The district adopted a student-wellness framework known as the Developmental Assets, which aims to promote and measure behaviors associated with youth resilience and thriving.

Community agencies, with leadership from the school district and the city recreation department, created a coalition known as Project Safety Net, which continues to meet monthly to report on initiatives concerning youth well-being.

School principals initiated efforts on each campus to identify at-risk students, and a variety of peer support programs such as "Sources of Strength" and "Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope" took hold.

The California Healthy Kids Survey describes itself as "the largest statewide survey of resiliency, protective factors and risk behaviors in the nation." Local officials called it a reliable measure for making statewide comparisons and longitudinal assessments of student health.

In the survey, Palo Alto students report higher resiliency and less engagement in high-risk behavior compared to students across Santa Clara County and "comparable schools."

But local school officials expressed concern about reported levels of substance abuse.

Among 11th-graders, 29 percent reported using alcohol and 19 percent reported using marijuana in the last 30 days. Sixteen percent reported binge drinking in the last 30 days.

In terms of school safety, 24 percent of seventh-graders reported they had been harassed on school property in the last 12 months, and 15 percent said they had been afraid of being beaten up. Eighty-three percent of seventh-graders reported feeling safe or very safe at school.

In the area of home life, 82 percent of seventh-graders, 78 percent of ninth-graders and 74 percent of 11th-graders report that "There is a parent or some other adult who talks to me about my problems."

Regarding school "connectedness," 79 percent of Paly freshmen and 70 percent of Paly juniors and 80 percent of Gunn freshmen and 81 percent of Gunn juniors said they felt "meaningful participation."

Officials said the two high schools were comparable on "connectedness" data but that Paly students reported slightly higher levels of substance abuse.

The Healthy Kids Survey, taken voluntarily and anonymously, garnered participation by 74 percent of seventh-graders, 87 percent of ninth-graders and 82 percent of 11th-graders.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 8, 2012 at 8:24 am

While this Weekly article seems to be focusing on student "Mental Health", the details of the report focus heavily on student drug use--which could be as high as 35% of the student body, if Seniors had been included in the survey.

The following letter has been sent to both the School Board, and the City Council, identifying the drug-related data:

Web Link

The letter requests that the PAUSD Board of Trustees pass a Resolution opposing Measure C, based on the hard data staring them in the face that demonstrates a very unhealthy use of drugs by far too many students.


Posted by Gunn alum, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 8, 2012 at 10:43 am

Wayne - why didn't you use the data from Paly in your letter since the article states that Paly had a higher level of substance abuse? It seems like your group is on a serious war-path for Gunn these days and it's very troubling.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 8, 2012 at 10:54 am

> It seems like your group is on a serious war-path
> for Gunn these days and it's very troubling.

And what group would that be? I am not associated with any group. This letter was submitted because I am a resident, and a concerned citizen.

As to not using the Paly data..I took Gunn since it was supposed to be the more "troubled" school. Getting the data out of the .pdf files into .xls format takes some time, and I didn't want to spend another hour, or so, going through the Paly data..which more-or-less reflects the Gunn data. I requested the PAUSD to do a full comparison in my letter, so that everyone could see the drug-use data for the two schools in a side-by-side comparison.

While the demographics between Paly and Gunn are a little different, they are more similar than different, in the long run.


Posted by Gunn alum, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 8, 2012 at 11:46 am

Sorry, I thought you were associated with WCDB. I apologize.
I understand using only one set of data, but obviously Gunn is not the more "troubled" school as this article points out. It's time to get the facts out there and have this community realize that Paly is just as "troubled" if not more, than Gunn.


Posted by devil in the details, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2012 at 11:47 am

On the topic of mental health, there's a big difference between Gunn & Paly on the question: "Outside of my home and school, there is a
teacher or some other adult…who notices when I am upset about something." Nearly 30% of Gunn students disagreed with this compared to 15% of Paly students.
Though, apart from the above question, the results for outside of school support are good for both schools.


Posted by Parents Responsible in Part, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Substance abuse is rampant in both schools and this could be caused in part by parents who are checked out and into their own drugs. It is time that we start looking at the modeling we are doing for our students. The kids get their drugs at school whereas the parents get their drugs from their doctors in the form of pain med scrips and the liquor store in the form of booze. We all need to work together to reduce or eliminate the abuse of mind altering drugs amongst our students. One thing that would really help is if the parents would get out of their denial and into recovery themselves. These parents would also be much more available to their students as a touch point when they are having difficulties.


Posted by TA is the way!, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Thanks "details" for highlighting the fact that students at Gunn are twice as likely to lack that close relationship with a teacher, counselor or other adult as students at Paly. When can we stop the politics and help the kids. Stop stalling and bring TA to Gunn. It's been 20 years, time enough.


Posted by Devil in the details, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm

TA, while TA at Gunn may be the way to go, the data referenced talked about connectedness outside of home or school. TA wouldn't change that. Gunn students need more opportunity to engage with the community.


Posted by Jan H, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Substance abuse has always been prevalent at high pressure schools. Look at Saratoga High, Menlo School, St. Francis, and Castilleja as well as Paly and Gunn. As a former riding instructor and foster parent, I have had students and foster kids from all of these schools. One of my foster kids had been busted for selling ecstasy to Castilleja and Paly kids ten years ago!

I have studied much about European schools, and the ones that stand out are in Germany and Finland, where through similar experiences to America's, they learned about ten years ago to tone down the pressure, give more breaks between classes, encourage more physical activity, and cut homework loads drastically. Of course, the school day in most of Europe is longer than ours, as is the school year, but the kids do more school work in school and usually have no more than thirty minutes a day of homework. They actually have time for a life after school!

They also have far higher test scores--Finland's are the highest in the world-- far, far, far less substance abuse, far lower delinquency rates, fewer teen suicides, almost no dropouts, and way more college graduates and holders of graduate degrees.

The numbers and statistics speak for themselves.


Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2012 at 6:29 pm

Interesting that people are pointing to this data and demanding that TA be brought to Gunn (not sure if it should or shouldn't) when the data in table A3.1 says that:
At Gunn -
30% of 9th graders score high in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
40% of 11th graders score high in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
61% of 9th graders score Moderate in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
58% of 11th graders score Moderate in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"

While at Paly
39% of 9th graders score high in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
39% of 11th graders score high in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
57% of 9th graders score Moderate in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"
56% of 11th graders score Moderate in "Caring Adult Relationships in the School Environment"

This says to me that they are pretty even in terms of connectedness to an adult on campus by the time they are in 11th grade. It is interesting that there is growth in the percent that feel connected at Gunn, but not at Paly. It may be that the 9th grade TA program at Paly works well at providing that connectedness. Since Gunn is revamping their Titan 101 program for freshmen it will be interesting to see these numbers next year.


Posted by TA is the way!, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm

It's not just freshman, it's sophomores too. Both see their counselors for one brief annual meeting per year if that. Many sophomores have not met their counselors ever by mid-year.

Agree with "devil" that this is a question about teachers outside of school -- my point is that if Gunn students are lacking these relationships outside of school that is all the more reason to give them to them inside school. If they need those connections we should give them to them. If they are twice as likely to lack them (probably due to the comparative lack of athletic participation between Gunn and Paly?) then TA will help. It sure won't hurt. And it will help with that 10% point difference for frosh and soph students as well.

Oh, those are the ones that Dr. Skelly says he doesn't care if they ever see a counselor, I forgot.


Posted by Palo Verde Parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm

The data I reported was "School Environment". The other data reported by someone else was about outside school relationships. This survey was only given to 9th and 11th graders. It was not given to sophomores. Again, not sure if TA at Gunn is the right way to go or not, but I really feel people need to analyze things fairly and not just pick and choose the data that best suits their opinion.


Posted by Jan H., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

I do know that I will not vote for Ken Dauber if he supports TA.


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