Last November, former CASA Executive Director Amy Epstein and new director LeighAnn Eruzione, presented the results of the 2018 Prevention Needs Assessment (PNA) at a Town Council meeting. The in-depth survey included questions related to drug and alcohol use, mental and sexual health, and school safety, and was set in motion so the community could gain insight into the well-being of Winthrop’s youth in Grades 6-12. Out of the 1039 enrolled students in the district, 733 students participated in the PNA, and the end results were consistent with the communities around us, bringing awareness to the fact that the issues in all categories are a national concern.
“It’s important to comprehend the realities of what this means for the youth in our community,” said Eruzione, who believes that funding for programming is directly related to better statistics amongst all categories in the PNA. “There is only so much that a coalition and a school can do, we need parents to be aware so they can have conversations with their children. While the joint effort of CASA, the police department and the school department has put several successful resources into place, we need the help of the parents and community members. We are here to bring everyone together to unify around our youth.”
The most concerning of the PNA results fell under the mental health category, reflecting a slight increase of students having thoughts of suicide since the previous survey taken in 2016. According to the survey results, suicidal thoughts rose from 15 percent to 16.5 percent and 6 percent of those students actually made a suicide attempt. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness rose from 25 percent to 29 percent, confirming that there has been a rise in those who have steadily felt depressed for two weeks straight. The majority of students in high school admitted that they had someone they could talk to if they felt like they needed help, whereas the number of middle schoolers was slightly lower.
Of the students that reported dating, 18 percent felt that they were forced to participate in sexual behavior and 5 percent reported that a partner had hurt them physically over the previous 12 months. When the percentages of students who reported sexual force are translated into numbers, the end result is 21 students out of the 733 who took the PNA, admitted to being put in an involuntary sexual situation. Sexual intercourse amongst eighth graders dropped by 1 percent from 2016 to 2018 and by 10 percent in ninth graders from 2016 to 2018, rising slightly with age in tenth, eleventh, and twelve graders. Condom usage dipped slightly amongst 12th graders in 2016 and rose in 2018, resulting in 30 percent reported condom use of the 60 percent of overall students who admitted to having sexual intercourse.
Winthrop has seen a steady decline in students who reported using both marijuana and alcohol in their lifetimes, dropping from 82 percent alcohol use in 2009 to 48 percent in 2018 and 45 percent marijuana use in 2009 to 31 percent in 2018. This drop can be related to the federal dollars that have been provided for alcohol consumption education as well as the push for social-emotional learning in students starting as early as elementary school. While the stats show a slight rise in both middle schoolers and high schoolers being bullied from 2016 to 2018, an average of 45 percent of students agreed that it was cool to defend others, and 82 percent of all students felt comfortable talking to teachers one on one when it came to safety issues.
“The reason why these numbers may appear to be somewhat surprising is because Winthrop actually looks at the numbers and assesses the issues, whereas other communities hide the info,” said Epstein. “Other districts are afraid of the backlash they will receive, but Winthrop has done the necessary work to make a case for the proof needed to gain much-needed resources. We are on par with other communities, if not much lower. It’s something that we shouldn’t be afraid to address.”
Winthrop has been defined as an isolated community with limited resources, and the majority of struggling students have to go into the city or leave the town, in order to access treatment. Unlike the faculty and staff that are employed in the district, parents are not immersed in the culture of today’s students and they don’t see the problems and issues from the same angle as those who have their eye on it consistently.
“If we don’t share the info with the community, we won’t be able to tackle the issue,” said School Superintendent Lisa Howard. “Even if it’s a shock value, you need to wake people up because this is a true, ongoing issue. How to be safe and how to make good choices is part of the curriculum and intervention. Education is not just about reading, writing, and math. We’ve taken measures to have other town resources such as the police department to help us, and that is just an additional tool in our toolbox. We don’t just support academics, that’s not what school is anymore, but this is a community survey and we administer it in the school because that’s where the youth are most. Keep in mind that these are situations that are happening on weekends or outside of school, not just in school. As goals roll out, we are working hard to get parents involved and CASA to be supported when they speak to students. I feel confident this isn’t one source of info and we are committing that.”
If you are interested in hosting a coffee hour to discuss some of the pressing issues involving Winthrop’s youth, please contact LeighAnn Eruzione at: [email protected]