Town Crier

WILMINGTON — Coor­di­nator of Behavioral Health & Social Emotional Support Christine Murray and JSI Senior Consultant and Project Director Alec McKinney shared the results from the previous school year’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey for the School Committee last Wed­nesday night.

McKinney explained that the YRBS assessment is a Centers for Disease Con­trol and Prevention (CDC) national survey administered in all 50 states. The priority areas of questions that it asks students are related to mental health, substance use, sexual be­haviors, unintentional in­juries and violence, nutrition and physical activity, and this year they added COVID-19 impact.

The survey is anonymous. High school students only were asked about dating violence and being forced to do sexual things they didn’t want to do; the rest were asked of both middle and high school students.

Participation was slightly down from last year, McKinney noted, at 66 percent of students.

“Typically it’s around 95 percent participation,” he said.

He also said that this was lower than the participation in other districts.

Murray clarified that the survey had been administered during in-person days and not online.

The results from Wilmin­ton suggested a lot are ex­periencing poor mental health, with 1 in 5 saying they had experienced some type of loss due to COVID-19. In mental health, they answered school demands and expectations as the cause of the most negative stress.

However, there were relatively high rates of mental health support in their answers.

Substance abuse, McKin­ney said, increased by grade, although Wilming­ton students had a lower use of alcohol compared with the rest of the district. Some unintentional injury and violence that the re­sults showed were with cell phone use while driving and electronic bullying. They were also more likely to report risky sexual be­haviors like having sexual intercourse, sending or re­ceiving sexual messages, and not using contraception. Nutrition and physical activity improved compared to last year.

One thing the committee noticed was the new gender option of “gender­queer,” which McKinney said was added this year as a new dropdown gender option. He said they could choose between “female,” “male,” “genderqueer,” “don’t know” and “not willing to say.”

M. J. Byrnes asked how these students were being reached and considered whether the students who selected “gender­queer” are public or possibly closeted. Mur­ray answered that un­packing the data is a community effort, but there are a lot of programs that may reach them, between bullying prevention programs, social-emotional learning, and LGBTQIA trainings for staff.

Melissa Plowman poin­ted out the high bullying rates from stu­dents who view themselves as “gender­queer.” Some other areas where these students scored higher than other genders were in having attempted suicide (15 percent) and being forced to do sexual things that they didn’t want to do (24 percent). She placed duty on parents and caregivers and not just the school community to educate students about bullying and inclusivity for LGBTQIA students.

Murray mentioned the Student Support de­partment would be looking for more ways to involve families and caregivers. She plug­ged an upcoming virtual webinar called “Sup­porting Youth With De­pression” on Nov. 4 from 6-8:30 p. m., to provide tricks and stra­tegies for depression and support for students. There would be more webinars covering other related topics in the future.

Jesse Fennelly asked in what areas McKin­ney had noticed significant decrease or in­crease in Wilmington’s results. One concern McKinney mentioned in response was that 11 percent of students said they had made a plan to commit suicide. However, he said there wasn’t anything really dramatic from what he saw.

Plowman declared that to be 31 middle school students.

“Those numbers were very concerning to me,” she said.

Murray agreed the survey results as a whole were a lot to take in.

Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand appreciated that the data was fresh and there was still time in the school year to address the issues brought up. He said he’s encouraged already by the work being done by the new Social Emotional Lear­ning and Family En­gagement Specialists. He also agreed with the concerns of the committee and hoped to see more opportunities for engagement from the specialists.

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