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‘Don’t be a bystander’

WCS students, parents discuss results of Youth Risk Behavior Survey

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Central School eighth-grader and Vermont Kids Against Tobacco member Summer Bishop listens to an audience comment during ‘Dialogue Night.’ (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

Attention parents: Did you know that 6 percent of Williston Central School students in grades 6-8 have reported having tried to kill themselves? Or that 8 percent of students have used inhalants? Or that 45 percent have stated that it is “sort of easy” or “very easy” to obtain alcohol?

Those were just a few of the statistics that were revealed April 11 at “Dialogue Night,” in which WCS students and parents discussed the findings of the 2011 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey Report.

Although comprehensive survey data is available at the Chittenden South Supervisory Union level, WCS members of the Vermont Kids Against Tobacco (VKAT) leadership group chose to focus on several key areas of concern at the WCS level.

“It was important to have student voice,” said Sarah Klionsky, a student assistance program counselor at WCS who helped analyze the data. “It would be very different to have the faculty say, ‘This is our area of concern.’  It seemed much more powerful to have the students say what the areas of biggest concerns are.”

To ascertain the areas of focus, VKAT members held a meeting in January at Pizza Putt in South Burlington. In addition to the aforementioned statistics, students identified tobacco and marijuana use, seatbelt use and drinking and driving as salient talking points.

Identified as areas of concern were the fact that 18 percent of WCS grade 6-8 students have reported riding in a car with someone who had been drinking alcohol and that 11 percent responded that it would be “sort of easy” or “very easy” to obtain marijuana.

Among the suggested actions to help prevent risky behavior among WCS youths were the proposed creation of a class to help kids know how to help a friend in need, and the establishment of a “Chillin’” mediation club.

On the positive side, 81 percent of students reported always wearing a seatbelt when riding in a car, while 97 percent think it’s “wrong” or “very wrong” for someone their age to smoke cigarettes.

In addition, 0 percent of WCS students in grades 6-8 reported smoking cigarettes before the age of 11 – a metric that was greeted by a round of applause when it was announced at the April 11 meeting.

Shari Carr, a planning room outreach coordinator at WCS, said that while she was generally pleased with the categories VKAT students chose to zero in on, an important metric not discussed was the percentage of students who talk with their parents about school.

Although data wasn’t available at the WCS level, only 52 percent of CSSU students in grades 6-8 reported talking to their parents every day about school, while 4 percent said they never talk about school with their parents.

Craig Sampson – whose son, Nick, was among the VKAT presenters at the meeting – said that all of the evening’s areas of concern can be addressed by one simple principle: involvement.

“I think, overall, I can summarize a lot of these topics by something one of the students in our group said: ‘Don’t be a bystander,’” Sampson stated. “It’s as simple as that. I think it covers everything, from the students talking to their fellow students, from the people who work at the school talking in private with some of these students – whether it be (about) bullying or suicide – and calling the parents and getting them involved, as well as the parents in our community.

“I think a lot of times, though, a student might feel that they are tattling, or a parent might feel like, ‘it’s none of our business,’ and I think that’s where a lot of us make our mistakes. Don’t be a bystander,” Sampson said.