The results from a 2019 survey of Clinton students shows encouraging results, along with areas of concern, relating to substance use and prevention efforts.
In October 2019, Partners in Community (PIC) surveyed 764 total students in grades 7 to 12 to get their thoughts on substance consumption in Clinton. PIC Coordinator Kelley Edwards said that the latest results are mostly positive.
“The data looks good. It shows the message we’ve been using in Clinton is working,” Edwards said.
At a presentation made to the Town Council earlier in May, Edwards compared the results of the 2019 survey with one from five years earlier. One question the survey asked students was whether they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. During that time, the survey indicates usage has decreased, and dramatically so, among high school students.
In 2014, 53 percent of The Morgan School seniors indicated that they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days. In 2019 that number dropped to 31.9 percent.
The survey also measured student’s intake of marijuana, prescription drugs, and vaping, and on the whole, Edwards was happy with the results she saw there, too.
“I can happily share our use rates are continuing to fall,” Edwards said.
While the overall results of the survey convey students consuming less potentially harmful substances, there were some results that Edwards found troubling.
Besides usage rates, the survey also measured perception of harm from the substances, peer approval of use of the substances, and parent approval of use of the substances. Edwards said she was concerned about the perception that harm from marijuana is decreasing among students. Edwards linked that to efforts by some in the state to legalize marijuana.
“It signals we might see an increase in use down the road,” Edwards said.
Another area of concern is that, while vaping usage overall is down compared to five years ago (25 percent of 12th graders admitted to vaping compared to 28 percent five years ago), the perception of harm the students have about vaping is low. Also, Edwards said there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that there may be slightly more students vaping than those who admitted to it on the survey.
Increasing peer disapproval of substance use is something Edwards sees as a useful tool to further curb substance use in school.
“We’re trying to empower kids who aren’t using to speak up,” Edwards said.
The power of peer disapproval is a powerful deterrent for teens, Edwards said.
After the students were surveyed in October, Edwards said it’s been an unusually “tumultuous year” for many of the kids. The schools have been closed in Clinton since March, and it is unclear when the buildings will physically reopen again. In lieu of being in school, students have been partaking in online learning, and many are no doubt missing their peers, not to mention annual high school rituals like prom and graduation. To measure how students are coping, Edwards said PIC is hoping to administer a mental health survey to students before the end of the year.
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak threw the student’s routine into disarray, many students indicated on the survey that in future editions of the survey there should be more questions assessing the mental health needs of the students.
“They want an opportunity to talk more about things that are going on, “Edwards said.
On the survey, an alarming 30 percent of senior girls answered that they felt sad or depressed “all or most of the time” leading up to the survey (18 percent of senior boys answered the same). Edwards said that there are resources in place and school staff have been trained in what to do should a student experience thought of hurting themselves.
“All eyes and ears are on that at all times,” Edwards said.
The survey showed that parents in Clinton have a low approval rating of kids taking any potentially dangerous substance. Edwards said the fact that students know that their parents don’t approve is key to prevention efforts and is a sign that the community supports those efforts.
“That’s a great partnership we’re very grateful is there,” she said. “Because we have that partnership I’m hopeful our prevention efforts are working.”
While only 24 percent of students said that they feel valued by the community in Clinton, there have been encouraging signs that the school community has become more connected to each other since PIC started surveying the students. When the survey was first conducted in 2005 the results showed that only about 39 percent of students felt bonded to the school, meaning “They feel the teachers care about them and they care about the teachers and how the school is viewed,” Edwards said.
In 2019 that number has doubled, with 78 percent of students now saying they feel bonded to the school.
“It’s pretty great that every year it jumps a little. When more than three-fourths of kids feel bonded to their school, that’s a great feeling,” Edwards said.
Now that the results have been tabulated, Edwards said she presented to the Board of Education and the Town Council to fill them in on what the data shows. Due to restrictions on large gatherings, Edwards said she is working on potentially hosting an online forum for parents and other community members to get filled in on the results.
The PIC Facebook page and website www.clintonct.org/647/Partners-in-Community will also post further details on the survey results.