State officials tell school board about benefits of ‘youth risk behavior’ data

State officials tell school board about benefits of ‘youth risk behavior’ data

R.I. Departments of Health, Education, promote survey for middle school students

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Health and state Department of Education advocated for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey being given to North Providence students, arguing that the questionnaire yields useful data for the district.

RIDOH and RIDE representatives addressed the School Committee last Wednesday, after the board unanimously denied administering a survey to middle school students that members described as “inappropriate” about four weeks ago.

The survey for 6th- through 8th-grade students includes questions about sexual intercourse, drug use, suicide, bullying, body weight and use of tobacco products. The questions that raised the most concern from School Committee members included the following:

• How old were you when you had sexual intercourse for the first time?

• With how many people have you had sexual intercourse?

• The last time you had sexual intercourse, did you or your partner use a condom?

Ana Novais, executive director at RIDOH, told the committee at last Wednesday’s meeting that the purpose of the survey is to monitor “health risk behaviors … that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults.”

She said she did not expect the school board to retake its vote, but wanted to provide as much information about the survey as possible to the board.

Using RIDOH data, she explained, RIDE discovered that from 2010 to 2014, 65 women in high school or just out of high school were pregnant or parenting.

She spoke of how pregnancy makes graduating high school or finishing college a challenge, and said one focus of RIDE is preparing students for higher education.

“Teen births make achieving that outcome difficult, if not impossible, for some,” she told the board.

She also said the average rate of HIV/AIDS infections in town from 2011 to 2014 stood at 33 and one-quarter per 100,000 residents, according to collected data.

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is one of the few questionnaires RIDE urges districts to participate in, she said, calling it “critical” to schools. She reiterated that the survey is anonymous, and said the data collected, in part, is what led to the Health Equity Zone grant program in town.

She explained that RIDE’s perspective is that the survey “provided a rich base of statewide data” that led to millions of dollars to fund efforts relating to schools and the state, and made it possible to communicate needs in Rhode Island.

Reilly-Chammat said through collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RIDE was able to obtain a grant that, in part, provides funding for the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Novais said by seeing an increase or decrease in health risk behaviors, schools, RIDE, RIDOH and doctors are able to develop programs that “target specific problems.” She said through gathered data, RIDOH can determine what populations of students are at a greater risk, and said the survey has been administered in Rhode Island high schools since 1995.

That research, she said, “informed us that middle school is often a time when youth … began to engage in those risk behaviors, and we saw that some students were engaging in certain risk behaviors before age 13.”

When the School Committee voted “no” on the survey, multiple members said they objected to the questions that were sexual in nature, pointing out that for younger students, some of whom would be 11 years old taking the survey, those types of questions could put thoughts into their head.

Vice Chairwoman Gina Picard had said, “The question to me is, would they be asking themselves, ‘Should I be engaging in sexual intercourse? Is this something my other friends are doing?’ ”

She told The Breeze there are health classes in the district that address these topics already, and said an “age-appropriate” curriculum is already in place in North Providence.

“We do understand that some of those questions are sensitive in nature, but students are able to skip any questions they do not wish to answer,” Novais said.

She said the survey results are used in RIDOH’s behavioral health programs, oral health program, injury prevention initiatives and HIV and STD prevention programs.

Novais explained that data collected through the survey and Rhode Island Kids Count was used in Central Falls in efforts to pass an ordinance that restricted tobacco retailers’ proximity to schools, and would change the legal age for tobacco sales from 18 to 21.

The executive director also pointed out that results from the survey in previous years showed an increase in students having sex from 6th- to 8th-grade, with 3.1 percent of 6th-graders reporting having sex compared with 9.6 percent of 8th-graders engaging in sexual intercourse.

Following these results, she explained the CDC developed the middle school survey to help states “jump in” and address those issues.

Comments

School Committee has to come out of the dark ages and handle the responsibility of teaching and guiding kids of todays environment. The Internet has changed all information available to younger kids, these questions given under the Dept. of Health only HELP prepare for consequences for what kids are experiencing.
On smoking, unfortunately cigarettes are the least of our concerns, it's the unabated Marijuana usage and availability by all kids in schools. Nothing is being done in educating against any drug usage.