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  • Writer's pictureNorwalk Partnership

Youth Survey

Our youth survey is underway! As the city-wide substance use prevention coalition, we look forward to having current information from our middle and high school students (grades 7-11)! We will hear our students' voice about their thoughts, perceptions and behaviors related to substance use, mental health, relationships with teachers, social emotional skills. The high schoolers also are asked about how they've coped during COVID and their perceptions / level of empowerment around the racial justice movement, since those current events issues have been major factors in their lives this past year.

Why does this matter? Preventing risky behaviors starts with mental wellness and positive relationships, so all of this information will allow us to identify strengths and concerns, determine needed resources, and develop awareness campaigns and plan out strategies. Not only does our survey support substance use prevention work, it also aligns with and provides information for the district's Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative.

How is the survey funded? The survey does not cost Norwalk taxpayers anything! The Norwalk Partnership is funding the survey using our federal Drug-Free Communities (DFC) grant from the CDC. (Positive Directions-The Center for Prevention & Counseling is the fiduciary for this grant.)

The DFC grant requires that we survey our youth every 2 years to find out what the current substance use issues are and see whether prevention efforts are working. Surveys typically include additional questions related to protective factors and risk factors, like mental health status.

How will the information be used? The information will allow the schools to know how to adapt curriculum, target resources, and educate youth. It will allow our community coalitions (The Norwalk Partnership and Norwalk ACTS, both of which include parents, City departments, Norwalk Public Schools, and multiple youth-serving nonprofits) to develop programs and strategies, tailor messages, educate parents, and change policies as needed.

Who developed the survey? We are using a survey instrument developed by the Search Institute, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to research on youth development. Search Institute surveys are used in towns and cities throughout CT and the US. Norwalk's 2018 youth survey also used a Search Institute survey tool.

What substance use data are collected? All communities receiving DFC funding must survey youth every two years to collect 4 core substance use measures: current substance use rates, parental disapproval rates, peer disapproval rates, and perception of harm. These questions are asked about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, misuse of prescription drugs, and now vaping.

Having this information lets us know which drugs are currently popular, among whom, and in which grades. We can see whether youth understand the health risks of different substances and whether or not they are getting messages from parents or friends that substance use is unacceptable. That allows us to target education and other efforts. With subsequent surveys, we can see whether our work is having an impact. This infographic about alcohol use shows some of the data from the 2018 youth survey.

What other data are collected through this survey? The survey tool that we are using this year includes a module focusing on student-teacher developmental relationships and social-emotional competencies. We selected this module to inform and support the NPS district-wide Social-Emotional Learning initiative. This module replaces some questions about risky behaviors that were controversial in 2018, like a question about sexual activity which has been removed. We still include questions about mental health and suicidal ideation that were asked in 2018, because of the concerns the data raised. Ideally we will see improvement in those rates as a result of efforts since then. However, the stresses of the pandemic may have had the opposite effect. That's why this year's survey also has a module for high schoolers asking about their stress levels, coping skills and level of empowerment during the current events of this past year: COVID and the racial justice movement, which may have been major stressors for some.

What identifying information is collected? Demographic information is collected as in most surveys. Respondents are asked their age, grade, gender, racial and sexual identity, etc. to allow us to identify groups that are at higher risk and whether there are differences in the needs of different populations. In the reports, any time there are only a few respondents to a particular question, the answers will not appear, in order to prevent even the possibility of identifying an individual student.

Is the survey anonymous? Is it required? All information is anonymous, confidential, and voluntary. All students click on the same link to take the survey; they do not log in using their email. Names and emails are not able to be entered in any way. The entire survey is multiple choice except for one write-in question: "What support do you wish you were getting from [name of Norwalk school] focused on building strong relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic that you are not getting right now?"

Parents were sent a letter ahead of time, in English and Spanish, informing them about the survey and their right to opt their students out. Students can also choose to opt out of the entire survey on their own or can just skip any question they want. Teachers read a script before distributing the survey link to tell students that it's anonymous, confidential, and voluntary. In addition, that information appears on the first screen of the survey, which appears below. As shown, there is only one required question in the survey, which appears after they've read about it and asks them: "Are you willing to participate in this survey?"

What about accommodations? The survey is available in English and Spanish. It also has text-to-talk buttons for those who wish to hear the questions read to them. School counselors were oriented to the survey ahead of time to work with any students who might need any other accommodations or support.

When will we know the results? The survey will be completed during the week of June 7th. The aggregated report should be available within 2 weeks. It will be presented to the Board of Education, TNP, Norwalk ACTS, and parent and community groups over the summer and fall. We will be working on infographics and slideshows to share the findings, and our workgroups will be developing strategies over the summer. To find out what's happening, please subscribe to our website and follow us on social media!

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