School survey will assess risky behavior
A youth risk behavior survey aimed at students in grades seven through twelve will be administered in Martha's Vineyard Public Schools next Thursday, in cooperation with the Dukes County Health Council.
The survey addresses issues such as alcohol, tobacco and drug use, and stress management. The Dukes County Youth Task Force (YTF), a subcommittee of the Dukes County Health Council, formulated the questions.
The data from the survey will be compared to results from three similar surveys conducted over the past seven years to analyze trends in risk behavior, and to provide data for a Federal substance abuse prevention grant application.
Last week letters about the survey were sent home to parents of high school and middle-school age students. If parents do not want a student to take the survey, they were instructed to call their child's school. The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) guidance office has a copy of the survey available for parents to review. The elementary schools do not.
YTF chairman Cindy Doyle said the task force wants to ensure that students do not see the survey questions beforehand, as it could affect the results.
Participation is voluntary. Students will not be asked to write their names on the questionnaires, and their answers will be kept confidential. If uncomfortable about answering a question, they may leave it blank.
The YTF administered similar versions of the youth risk behavior survey to students in grades 6 through 12 in Island public schools in 2000, 2002, and 2005. The previous surveys were based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The Vineyard task force conducted the surveys in collaboration with the research firm of Social Science Research and Evaluation.
This year's survey, however, has been redone with the help of the Southeast Center for Healthy Communities (SCHC). The YTF applied for and received a grant for a year of strategic planning support from SCHC, which included technical support for the survey.
As YTF chairperson Cindy Doyle explained, the survey is similar to previous ones so that data can be compared. However, the SCHC suggested narrowing the survey's focus and changing the questions to provide data the task force will need in applying for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant they hope to receive.
"The grant could bring us $100,000 a year for five years to implement a prevention plan for the Island," Ms. Doyle said.
YTF member Mike Joyce, a retired former guidance counselor at Edgartown School, MVRHS student Max Nunes, and superintendent of schools James Weiss acted as a subcommittee to reengineer this year's survey. After reviewing questions from the 2005 survey, they met with the SCHC staff for their input.
At the suggestion of the SCHC staff, questions from the 2005 survey regarding physical health, including sexual behavior, were dropped from this year's survey, which focuses on alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. Added questions relating to risk and protective factors that already exist in the community will give the task force a better idea of where to direct substance abuse prevention efforts, Ms. Doyle explained.
Sixth graders will not be given the survey this time around, as they did not show the dramatic changes in risk behaviors in past surveys that seventh and eighth graders did, Ms. Doyle added.
Mr. Joyce said that SCHC will compile the survey results, help the task force identify issues and formulate ways to respond to them, work the data into a grant proposal, and establish goals and a mission statement.
MVRHS principal Margaret (Peg) Regan said that the more data the task force can collect over time, the more worthwhile the survey becomes. "We are looking to see if risk behaviors go up and down, so we know where to target our efforts from an educational perspective," Ms. Regan said.