Survey gives insight into students' mental, physical health

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is administered every two years

Posted 8/6/18

Nine in 10 students enrolled in the Douglas County School District feel safe at school. More than three-fourths of DCSD students have an adult to go to for help with a serious problem. Four in 10 …

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Survey gives insight into students' mental, physical health

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is administered every two years

Posted

Nine in 10 students enrolled in the Douglas County School District feel safe at school.

More than three-fourths of DCSD students have an adult to go to for help with a serious problem.

Four in 10 students in the district have used an electronic vapor product, up from about one in 10 students five years ago.

More than one-fourth of district students think it is "sort of" or "very easy" to get prescription drugs without a prescription.

Those are just some of the results from the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, the state's only in-depth survey on the health and well-being of young people. Results from 2017 were released in mid-July.

The survey sampled approximately 56,000 young people from 190 selected middle and high schools statewide, according to data provided by the state. In Douglas County, about 2,800 students from 10 high schools participated. That means about 4 percent of students in the district took the survey.

Every two years, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment administers the survey, which allows students across the state to anonymously report on their mental and physical health.

“This is a unique data point in that is it the student voice,” said Nancy Ingalls, personalized learning officer at Douglas County School District. “It's a self-report of students. We don't have many other mechanisms to obtain that in a secure and anonymous fashion.”

Douglas County School District participated in the survey in 2013 but opted out in 2015. The decision on whether to be included is made by the superintendent. The survey, comprising 185 questions on topics ranging from diet to substance use to parent and teacher involvement, takes one class period to complete.

Data from Douglas County School District fluctuated from 2013 to 2017, but was generally consistent with the state. Schools will use the results to identify trends and changes in youth behaviors and to create programs to address those trends and changes.

In Douglas County

Douglas County's results in 2013 and 2017 were generally consistent, with some notable differences in areas of substance use, bullying and mental health.

The percentage of students who had been using marijuana while driving dropped from 8 percent in 2013 to 6.6 percent in 2017.

The percentage of students who had ever smoked a whole cigarette dropped from 15.8 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2017. But the percent of students who had ever used an electronic cigarette spiked from 11.5 percent in 2013 to 41.1 percent in 2017.

The question on electronic cigarette use in the 2017 survey used the term "electronic vapor products," while the 2013 question used the term "e-cigarettes." Deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office say the vaping trend is increasingly seen on school grounds.

The instances of bullying decreased. In 2013, 20.4 percent of students reported being bullied on school property during the past year, compared to 17.8 students in 2017. Online bullying also dropped from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 15.2 percent in 2017.

Responses to questions on mental health varied. The percentage of students who felt "so sad or hopeless for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities" increased from 21.5 percent in 2013 to 27.6 percent in 2017.

Staff members noted that the survey is a depiction of only a portion of students in the district.

“We can make some correlations to the rest of the district, but we are well aware that not every child participates in the survey,” said Lisa Kantor, the district's director of health, wellness and prevention.

Data from the 2017 survey shows that Douglas County students are generally doing better than the state and neighboring counties, like Arapahoe, in areas of obesity, diet, limiting screen time, positive mental health, access to health care, parent involvement, community-service participation and some areas of education.

But 40.4 percent of students who drove a vehicle during the past 30 days texted or emailed while driving on one or more days, compared to the state, at 35.9 percent. Just under 30 percent of students felt school assignments were often or almost always important and meaningful. The state came in at 32 percent.

The results didn't surprise Kantor or Ingalls, they said.

“Whether the data is in line with the state or not, we still understand that there are students behind every single one of those numbers,” Kantor said. “We will respond to what the data shows in a more targeted way.”

Moving forward

The Douglas County School District will take the data into consideration for its existing prevention programs, staff members say.

Prior to the 2017-18 school year, the district received a grant from the state for nearly $900,000. The money, made possible by the state's Marijuana Tax Cash Fund, would go toward hiring an additional full-time counselor for the district's nine neighborhood middle schools for the following three years.

Each counselor has a focus on prevention, mental health and substance abuse, according to the district.

“We are focusing on the younger kids, as well as the older kids,” Kantor said. “We know that the earlier we can provide opportunities for students to have access to information and feel supported and connected, the more resilient they are going to be through high school.”

Other prevention programs in place are the district's Prevention and School Culture team, started three years ago to address bullying, school violence, substance abuse and suicide.

Team members teach seminars to elementary, middle and high school students on the topics of resiliency, kindness, healthy boundaries, healthy relationships and substance-abuse prevention.

Though it may only represent a portion of students, data from the survey is invaluable, staff members say.

“We need to remind everyone that these are students, not data numbers,” Kantor said. “I think it's a great opportunity to get that student voice and continue our current efforts towards those students.”

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