Vast majority of students feel safe at school

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Consultant in grant-funded study describes baseline statistics for school board

By KEVIN KOELLING, Managing Editor

TELL CITY – Educators in Tell City and Troy Township want students to express themselves in an online survey available now and continuing through Dec. 17.

“The more people who participate, the better and more accurate results we’ll get,” Laura Noble said at a regular school-board meeting Tuesday. “It will provide us direction for our school-improvement plan,” added the assistant to the superintendent.

The survey is available at www.tomorrow.org/speakup.

Data from another survey conducted in March shows the number of third- through 12th-grade students who missed one or more school days because they felt unsafe at or going to or from school.

Dan Diehl, external evaluator for Diehl Evaluation and Consulting Services, presented information from the survey, collected with funding from a Safe Schools, Healthy Students Grant. As The News has previously reported, Perry Central Community School was named in 2009 the lead sponsor for a $729,132 grant to be awarded annually for four years by the U.S. Department of Education.

“A much more interesting category is you have 94 percent of kids said that they feel safe,” he said. “Why do they feel safe? No. 1 is administration and staff, the extent to which teachers are present in the halls, watching out for them, followed by peer or social networks, and perceived safe school environment.”

The survey examined indicators in categories for safety, mental health and use of alcohol or marijuana. Objectives Diehl described included decreases in percentages of students skipping school because they feel unsafe, getting into fights or being bullied. A drop in the number of disciplinary referrals and increase in perceptions of safety are also goals of the program.

Six percent of Tell City-Troy Township students missed one or more days within the previous 30 because they didn’t feel safe, the survey showed. The top reason they felt unsafe was perceptions of emotional or verbal abuse.

Nineteen percent of students reported getting into fights on school grounds during the preceding year, a statistic led by sixth- to eighth-graders, whose rate was nearly 25 percent.

Use of marijuana by students across the state is on the upswing after a downward trend that began in 1996 but showed a rise in 2001, according to one of the graphs Diehl displayed. Ninth- through 12th-graders here showed the highest rates of those reporting at least one use within the previous month.

Information in his report included statistics from 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, which showed a slight increase, but “I want to emphasize, this grant was awarded last fall; full implementation wasn’t until this year, so in reality, they truly are baseline data.”

Differences he mentioned were jumps from 8.5 to 10.3 percent of students who reported using marijuana and from 28.9 to 29.5 percent of those using alcohol within the previous month. Youngsters’ use of alcohol statewide also started rising beginning last year.

Increasing student use of mental-health services is another objective Diehl described. It includes those provided by school social workers and counselors, excluding guidance counseling, and wraparound coordinators, who can bring a variety of community resources into a situation, based upon need. The number of students in this category jumped from 95 to 227 locally over the last two school years, Diehl reported. He said that spike was driven by an increase in “capacity to serve kids; this is a very positive finding.”

A decrease appeared in the percentage of referrals to mental-health services in the community from one year to the next, Diehl reported, but “I would fully expect that once mental-health professionals get into the schools … and recognize the services that are out there, we should see some stability in this.”

Summing up, he noted that 6 percent of students missing school because they feel unsafe “is probably too much – we would all agree with that – but the flip side of that is 94 percent feel safe.

Research-based training and involvement of families have been implemented, “so the next data points will be much more interesting and important to look at,” Diehl concluded.

(Editor' note: The current online opinion poll relates to this story. You're invited to go to our Opinion section and select a response.)