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WHS Youth Risk Behavior Survey: One in Five Report Being Bullied; Over Half Report Consuming Alcohol

By Paul T. Choate 

Director of Student Services Clarisssa Schmal presents YRBS findings at the Oct. 8 Board of Education meeting. Photo by Paul T. Choate

Oct. 9, 2012. The Watauga High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results were presented by Director of Student Services Clarisssa Schmal at the Oct. 8 Board of Education meeting and some startling numbers were released, including almost one in five survey respondents saying they had been bullied. 

The YRBS monitors five categories of youth behavior: alcohol, tobacco and other drug use; behaviors that lead to unintentional injuries; sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases; poor nutrition; and low levels of physical activity. Approximately 1,130 students have participated during each of the survey’s three implementations in 2009, 2011 and 2012. The survey is anonymous and students are reminded that participation is voluntary. They are also informed that they can skip questions that make them uncomfortable. 

“We consider the implementation [of the survey] beneficial because these behaviors have been found to be the leading causes of youth mortality and morbidity, and, as such, monitoring these behaviors is of particular interest to [those] who are concerned with improving the health and welfare of America’s youth,” said Schmal. She added that it would help Watauga County Schools determine the need for health programs as well as improve on programs already in place. 

Due to the wide range of issues the survey covered, Schmal went through only the ones she felt needed to be addressed the most during her presentation. 

“We could be here for hours tonight talking about all of the results, but I promised [Supt.] Dr. [David] Kafitz that I would select the top five areas of concern,” she said.

Schmal first addressed some issues regarding violence related behaviors. According to survey results, 23.8 percent of respondents reported carrying a weapon in the last 30 days and 10.1 percent reported carrying a weapon to school in the past 30 days. Additionally, 12.41 percent more minorities than whites reported being forced to have intercourse, and more than one in four minorities reported being physically abused in some way in a relationship. 

2012 YRBS survey results for bullying. Click to enlarge

As for bullying, more than one in five school-wide reported being bullied on school property, with the highest percentage coming from ninth graders at 26.06 percent, closely followed by minorities at 23.88 percent. As for “cyberbullying,” almost twice as many females as males reported being electronically bullied in the past 12 months.

Schmal then addressed the issue suicide-related behaviors and attitudes. She said the survey found almost one in four reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness lasting two weeks or more in the past 12 months, with females reporting these feelings almost twice as much as males. Minorities reported the highest percentage of these feelings.

The fourth category addressed was use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Over half of the respondents reported using alcohol, with the highest percentage coming from 12th graders at 60.87 percent. Alcohol had the highest prevalence rate among substances, followed by marijuana (39.2 percent), cigarettes (31.7 percent), prescription drugs (21.5 percent), inhalants (12.1 percent), cocaine (8.5 percent) and methamphetamine (5.7 percent). 

Lastly, Schmal addressed the issue of sexual behavior. 37.8 percent of respondents reported having sex at least once in their lifetime, with the highest percentage reported by minorities (55.22 percent) and the lowest by ninth graders (23.71 percent). Also, more than one in four respondents reported having used drugs or alcohol prior to the most recent time they had intercourse. 

2012 YRBS survey results for ATOD usage. Click to enlarge

“Taken together, the above statistics suggest a need to continue to support students, parents and teachers in the WCS through prevention and education,” Schmal’s presentation read. 

Dr. Kafitz said that some WHS students told him the survey may have been skewed to some degree by some students “kind of Mickey Mouse-ing around with their responses thinking it would be funny.” However, he did add that he had concerns. He also commended WHS Principal Marshall Gasperson and the high school staff and students on the strides they have made to curb youth risk behavior. 

The two student Board of Education members were not surprised by the survey’s findings.

“Honestly, a lot of those numbers aren’t shocking to me. I know kids who do all that and a lot of them are doing it and not shy about saying it,” said student Board Member Nick Younger. 

Student Board Member Patrick Williamson echoed Younger’s thoughts, saying that although some students may have answered survey questions inaccurately as a joke he still believed the results were mostly accurate.

“I think we have made great strides. I know the ASC (Assessment Support & Counseling) Center at the high school and various things have been put in place, and we’re very appreciative to those strides,” said Board Chair Deborah Miller. “But we do still have a lot of work to do, and a lot of times we desperately want and need the student input as well to help us know how to help and reach the students.”

Copies of the YRBS results may be obtained from the Appalachian Health Department by calling 828-264-6635.