TAHOE/TRUCKEE. Calif. — Recent survey results reveal Tahoe Truckee Unified School District ninth-graders rate higher than the state average in areas of feeling sad and hopeless, along with suicide contemplation.
Every other year, fifth-, seventh-, ninth- and 11th-graders in California can take the California Healthy Kids Survey, a youth health risk and resilience data collection service. At TTUSD, 196 fifth-graders , 233 seventh-graders, 198 ninth-graders and 155 11th-graders took the 2012 survey; their identities remain anonymous.
“It really does provide a kind of … snapshot of who the kids are that we’re dealing with,” explained Corine Harvey, TTUSD executive director of student services, to school board trustees during their Wednesday meeting.
When ninth-grade students were asked if they seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months, 24 percent answered in the affirmative — up by 11 percent from that grade level’s 2010 survey results. The 2012 state average for ninth-graders is 16 percent.
As for making a plan on how to attempt suicide in the past 12 months, 20 percent of TTUSD ninth-graders answered affirmatively, compared to the state average of 12 percent.
In terms of feeling sad and hopeless within the past 12 months, 36 percent of local ninth-graders said yes — up by 12 percent from 2010 — while the state average is 30 percent.
“They are a very at-risk group, and that’s this year’s grade 10,” said Rachel Falk, Glenshire Elementary School counselor. “… We are very concerned about them.”
Jeff Ream, North Tahoe High School counselor, later added: “(We’re) working to interpret and try(ing) to find the root cause of what some of this data is. It’s really kind of off from the other grades, and I don’t necessarily have an answer for it.”
Seventeen percent of TTUSD seventh-graders and 13 percent of 11th-graders reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months — both are slightly below the state average.
For sad and hopeless feelings within the past 12 months, both TTUSD seventh- and 11th-graders were below the state average and went down from 2010 survey results.
“This is one (area) we’ve all taken a very close look at, and are working extremely hard to improve these statistics, but also to make connections with students, so they have a place to come to when they are feeling these sad or hopeless feelings,” Ream said.
Some of those connections within the district include the Wellness Center, Sources of Strength, What’s Up? Wellness Checkup staff, and school counselors among others, according to a previous report.
Substance use and refusal skills
A high percentage of both ninth-graders and 11th-graders admitted to alcohol and marijuana use, according to the survey.
Fifty-two percent of 11th-graders said they had used alcohol in the past 30 days — up from 20 percent from 2010 — with the state average being 33 percent. Thirty-six percent of ninth-graders said they used alcohol, compared to 18 percent in 2010 and 24 percent statewide.
“... Fifty-two percent of the juniors, that’s surprising and (a) shocking statistic,” said Nancy Evans, Truckee High School counselor. “However, what keeps students from not drinking? What is it about the other 48 percent that are not drinking alcohol, and ... what resiliency factors are in their life?”
Similar questions of resiliency were mentioned when data of marijuana use was examined.
Thirty-one percent of 11th-graders and 21 percent of ninth-graders said they used marijuana in the past 30 days, compared to the state average of 21 percent and 15 percent, respectively.
“In the last three years, we have partnered up with so many community agencies,” Evans said. “… I’m feeling like these programs are going to continue to reach out and add those resiliency qualities to students, so they’re able to have refusal skills.”
Resilience indicators — including students having a caring relationship with a school adult, high expectations in their school and school participation — were all factored in when gauging student school connectedness.
For all participating grade levels, student connectedness was above the state average — 75 percent for fifth-graders, 50 percent for seventh-graders, 40 percent for ninth graders and 54 percent of 11th-graders.
“A lot of questions that come up around this data is are ‘kids really truthful?’” Harvey said. “And the research says if you ask kids anonymously, even questions that are sensitive, you get reliable information.”
Board member Kirsten Livak offered a survey critique.
“My criticism of this survey is that it doesn’t really ask the deeper questions,” she said. “It’s very superficial. It’s given us a bunch of information, but we have no idea what’s working and what’s not with our programs.
“I think everybody is really well-intentioned at looking at the data, but how we use it — we still haven’t figured that out.”