Williston students analyze health survey (3/18/10)

March 18, 2010

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

After analyzing results from a youth risk survey taken last year, a team of seventh and eighth grade Williston students is ready to share its thoughts with the community.

Approximately 15 Williston Central School students will discuss their findings with parents and community members during a forum on March 25. The Thursday meeting will take place at the school from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The event is hosted by Vermont Kids Against Tobacco and is part of that group’s annual Dialogue Night.

Sarah Klionsky, a student assistance program counselor at Williston Central, said she hopes the meeting will entice many parents to discuss steps they might take to address certain concerns.

Over the winter, students in Vermont Kids Against Tobacco, also known as VKAT, investigated results from the state’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey is handed out by the Vermont Department of Health every year to students across the state in grades eight through 12. The optional and confidential survey asks students about personal usage of tobacco, drugs and alcohol, and contains questions regarding sex and sexuality.

As part of the survey analysis, the Vermont Department of Education awarded Williston Central with a $350 grant. Students with VKAT attended an analysis session in Montpelier in February as part of the grant. Klionsky said Williston Central is the first middle school to earn a grant through the Department of Education.

Klionsky said the survey results, broken down by school district, reveal that parents and the school community are doing a lot to stop students from smoking and participating in other risky behavior. For instance, 96 percent of Williston eighth graders surveyed last year said their parents believe it’s “wrong or very wrong” for them to smoke cigarettes.

The VKAT students found that result to be major strength from the survey. They also determined other strengths: 91 percent of those surveyed participated in a physical activity class once a week, 85 percent ate a meal with family members three or more days a week, and 79 percent always wear a seatbelt while in a vehicle.

“The students were very pleased to learn these results,” Klionsky said.

But there were other results the VKAT group felt needed further attention, Klionsky said. For instance, 6 percent of students surveyed said they experienced their first sexual activity prior to age 13. That’s up three percentage points from a 2007 survey.

VKAT member and eighth grader Izzy Rose said some of the results shocked her and the group wanted to find ways to help fellow students.

“(There) were some percentages that i thought we needed to try and do things about and we have been brainstorming ideas on how to change or help that percentage go down,” Rose wrote in an e-mail to the Observer.

As part of the survey analysis, students also developed potential actions the school and community could take to curb the negative results. VKAT said the school should host an evening talk for parents about dealing with their children’s growing sexual awareness. As a result, a May meeting will feature Dr. Barbara Frankowski, a local pediatrician, discussing ways for parents to talk with their kids about sex.

Student also suggested the school might create a separate eighth grade health curriculum instead of combining classes with seventh graders.

Other results prompted the VKAT group to suggest that the school train eighth graders in guidance classes to be “peer listeners” in order to help their classmates. Students were worried to learn that 10 percent of those surveyed purposefully cut or burned themselves to inflict self-harm over the past year, Klionsky said.

The VKAT group also found other areas of concern: 9 percent of those surveyed said they tried marijuana and 12 percent said they tried inhalants.

Also, only 58 percent felt they mattered to people in the community. Klionsky said the students wanted to see that percentage climb.

“I think they were a little surprised by that one,” Klionsky said.


The Vermont Kids Against Tobacco “Dialogue Night” will take place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 25 at Williston Central School.