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.