Survey shows increase in some risky behavior

By Wendy Byerly Wood -
Victoria Cox, school health educator for the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, presents the results of Elkin City Schools’ youth risk behavioral survey. - Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune

Some of the results of the Elkin City Schools’ youth risk behavioral survey had school leaders dismayed, with some numbers improving over last year’s survey.

This year’s middle school survey varied from last year, and isn’t as comparable since only seventh grade was questioned in 2017, instead of seventh- and eighth-graders last year, explained Victoria Cox, new school health educator with the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center.

At the high school, each year the ninth and 11th grade classes are surveyed, this format remained the same this year.

Cox broke down her overview of the survey results for each school level into those numbers which were cause for concern, and those which were improved from the previous year’s survey. Topics covered by the survey included fighting, bullying, suicide, drug, tobacco and alcohol use, sexual behavior and physical activity levels.

At the middle school, for the 74 seventh-graders who answered the survey, in response to “Have you ever been in a physical fight?,” 63.51 percent said they had not, with 36.49 percent saying they had. But Cox pointed out the question did not specify specifics such as if those fights were at school, among siblings, or when they happened.

Thirty-five of the 74 students, or 47.3 percent, said they have been bullied on school property.

Also, 14 of those 74, or 18.92 percent, said they had seriously thought about killing themselves, a number which greatly concerned school officials. “This one was very startling to me, and it did go up from last year,” Cox said of the percentage of positive responses. “Another thing I’m offering through school education is teaching children that things that may seem bad today aren’t going to be that bad tomorrow, and that there is help, there’s school counselors, teachers you can talk to, we really want to get that number down.”

In moving into use of drugs, tobacco and other products, 5.41 percent of the seventh-graders, or four of the 74, said they had used electronic vapor products. That percentage was lower than the 9.21 percent, or 14 of 152 students who took the survey last year.

Only one student said they’d try to smoke a cigarette this year, 1.35 percent, compared to last year’s 7.24 percent. Also, just two students said they’d drunk more than a few sips of alcohol, 2.7 percent, while last year’s percentage was 13.25 percent.

Some of the officials wondered if those numbers are lower this year, because it is a younger age population begin questions, omitting the eighth-graders.

None of the seventh-graders responded that they’d used marijuana this year. Last year six of the 152 middle-schoolers said they had. In addition, none of the seventh-graders said they’d used cocaine this year, with no one responding in the affirmative last year either. None of the seventh-graders had used prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription either.

The physical activity of the middle-schoolers was surveyed based on how many days a week they were active for at least 60 minutes. Cox said those numbers of days of activity were lower this year with 27.03 percent being active seven days a week this year, compared to 47.33 percent last year.

Only one seventh-grader responded that they’d had sexual intercourse this year, or 1.35 percent, while last year five middle-schoolers said they had, 3.33 percent.

At the high school level, one question presented to the ninth- and 11th-graders quizzed them on how many days in the past 30 days had they texted or emailed while driving a vehicle. Twelve of the 179 students said they’d done that all 30 days, 6.7 percent, while 60 students, 33.52 percent said they’d not done that at all. of those taking the survey, 44.13 percent, or 79 students, said they’d not driven a car during the past 30 days.

One high-schooler responded that they’d been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property over a 12-month period, which dismayed school officials greatly. Other responses were that one student had been threatened four or five times; four had been threatened two or three times; and 10 had been threatened one time.

Several questions revolved around the students’ feelings and thoughts on suicide, as they did for the middle school.

In responding to “During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities?,” 51 students, 28.49 percent, said yes. In asking if during that same 12 months, the students had seriously considered attempting suicide, 27 students said they had, 15.08 percent. In going further and asking if the students had made a plan of how they would attempt suicide, 20, or 11.17 percent, said they had.

When asked how many times they’d actually attempted suicide in that 12-month period, two said they’d made attempts six or more times; four said they had two or three times, and three said they had one time.

Cox and school officials discussed making sure students are aware of services available to them when they feel they need someone to reach out to, such as counselors, adults at the schools, parents and others in the community.

Numbers for tobacco, alcohol and drug use were higher at the high-school level on the survey. Forty-four students, 24.58 percent, said they’d tried at least one or two puffs of a cigarette, while 56, or 31.28 percent, had used an electronic vapor product.

Cox said people don’t realize that the vapor products are just as harmful as smoking a cigarette. Five of the 179 students said they’d used an electronic vapor product all of the 30 days prior to the survey. One hundred forty-nine had never used one.

“During your life, how many times have you used marijuana” asked another question. Eight said they’d used marijuana 100 or more times, with 12 saying they’d used one or two times. One hundred forty-two said they’d never used the drug.

Also, only one student responded that they’d taken a prescription drug not prescribed for them 40 or more times, and one other students said they had 20 to 39 times. Eleven said they had one or two times, and five said they had three to nine times.

Twenty-four students, 13.48 percent, said they’d been offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property in the past 12 months, with 154 responding in the negative to the question.

In being questioned on whether they’d had sexual intercourse, not specifying a time frame, 55 students, or 30.73 percent, said they had. In response to a question on whether they’d participated in oral sex, 53 students, or 29.78 percent, said they had. The number of students responding that a condom was used during sexual intercourse did increase, with 34, or 19.21 percent saying a condom was used over last year’s number of 12.9 percent.

Fewer students, 95.53 percent, said they’d been in a physical fight on school property in the past 12 months this year, with more than 89 percent not being in a fight the previous year.

In a question on dating violence, of the 120 who said they had gone on a date with someone in the past 12 months, 116 said they’d not been hurt on purpose, and four said they had been one and six or more times.

Fewer students said they’d been bullied on school property in the past 12 months this year. Thirty-one students, or 17.32 percent, said they’d been bullied, while 148 said they hadn’t.

Also, fewer students said they’d seriously committed attempting suicide, 15.08 percent, or 27 students, compared to last year’s 15.71 percent or 30 students.

Superintendent Dr. Myra Cox said school officials will be looking at ways to use the results of the survey “as an opportunity to educate the students.”

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

Victoria Cox, school health educator for the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, presents the results of Elkin City Schools’ youth risk behavioral survey. Cox, school health educator for the Surry County Health and Nutrition Center, presents the results of Elkin City Schools’ youth risk behavioral survey. Wendy Byerly Wood | The Tribune

By Wendy Byerly Wood