Vermillion PTA pores over youth survey data

Vermillion PTA pores over youth survey data Vermillion High School students Jacque Smidt, Dan Mollet, Jared Burcham, Nicki Mollet and Tricia Merrigan spoke to Vermillion PTA members Monday about the profile of the community's youth revealed in a survey conducted by Search Institute. by David Lias A profile of youth in the Vermillion School District, conducted last year by the Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN, has helped to identify strengths and weaknesses in the community that likely have an influence on students' lives.

The Vermillion PTA was introduced to an 80 page report at its meeting Monday night in the Vermillion School Library.

The report was made possible by joint efforts of Healthy Kids � Healthy Community, a Vermillion organization formed in reaction to suicide and other apparent problems being experienced by young people, and the counseling department of the Vermillion School District.

The Rev. Steve Miller, a spokesman of Healthy Kids � Healthy Community, told the PTA group that the purpose of the Search Institute survey was to identify the levels of the positive aspects of Vermillion.

"They say very directly that the more positive assets that you have in your community, the less risky behavior you have out of your young people," Miller said, "and we said 'this is exactly what we were looking for.'"

The survey was administered in December 2001 to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 at Vermillion Middle School and Vermillion High School. To ensure student anonymity, no names or identification numbers were used.

Students, through the survey, reveal both the strong and the weak points of their lifestyles in Vermillion.

The report reveals, for example, that most young people � 74

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percent � enjoy strong family support. However, only 30 percent of Vermillion's young people report that they experience positive family communication.

The survey also indicates that young people would benefit with a more caring school climate, more parent involvement in schooling, and more creative activities in the community.

Students noted that they feel empowered by the community's safety, by performing service to others, by youth programs, positive peer influence and Vermillion's religious community.

The survey reveals behaviors that put youth in the Vermillion School District at risk. The level of risk-taking rises as students grow older.

About 60 percent of Vermillion's senior class, for example, reported that they had used alcohol once or more in a 30 day period. Forty percent said they had got drunk once or more in a two week period.

Forty percent of 12th-graders reported that they had driven an automobile after drinking once or more in a 12 month period. Almost half of the seniors surveyed said they had rode once or more in a 12 month period with a driver who had been drinking.

Tricia Merrigan, a freshman at Vermillion High School, told the PTA members that students and adults of the community decided that they needed a lot of time to focus on the findings of the survey.

"We went on a retreat in November at Inspiration Hills," she said. "There were teachers and parents and community members and tons of students, and we spent the entire day digging into the results and really cracking down on what we felt was important and what we really wanted to change in the community."

Jared Burcham, a junior at Vermillion High School, noted that he took the survey last year. "I think it's great that everyone is trying to help the youth of Vermillion," he said.

Burcham said a common key problem found to be experienced by young people is a lack of communication in families.

"Part of that, I'm sure, is because high school students don't talk to their parents very well," he said. "We also felt that the level of the community valuing youth was really low."

He said the survey shows that only 25 percent of youth believe they are valued by the Vermillion community.

Youth and adults participating in the retreat concluded, Burcham said, that parent/student orientations, and more retreats involving the general public could help solve some of the challenges revealed in the survey.

"The big thing we noticed is that the older you get, the lower your restraint gets," Dan Mollet, a Vermillion High School student, said. "The ability to resist peer pressure, for example, decreases with age."

He told PTA members that honest education in schools about drugs, sex and other risky behavior was identified at the retreat as a way to combat the decrease in restraint levels.

"If you show the dangers of teen pregnancy and drunk driving and that sort of thing," he said, "then it would appear that students would be less likely to do it."

Jacque Smidt, a sophomore at Vermillion High School, noted that 12 percent of all students noted that they felt sad or depressed most or all of the time during in the month prior to participating in the survey, and that 11 percent of the total sample has attempted suicide one or more times.

"I thought the numbers were actually pretty accurate, and that's pretty sad," Smidt said. Retreat participants, she said, have identified mentoring and the formation of strong relationships between youth and community members as one way to combat this problem. Another proposed idea, she said, is the development of a list of network resources in the community.

VHS student Nicki Mollet told the PTA members, "What we're trying to present to you is that we have looked at certain things as being the biggest problems among the youth of Vermillion � those being communication, restraint, depression and suicide.

The survey says that students don't feel valued by their community, she said. "We've batted this around a little bit. We've asked ourselves why we don't feel valued ? I think basically we first need to accept that we are all part of the community. Maybe part of the problem is that students don't feel like they are part of the community."

Mollet identified a "natural helper type" retreat involving adults and students, a mentoring program, a stronger focus on the importance of helping others, more information and resources for youth involvement and the creation of systems for pairing youth with needs with neighbors and community agencies as ways to combat this problem.

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