Student survey points to stresses in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage

Some improvements over last survey in District 191

From honor students to members of immigrant families, some kids worry — and their numbers have grown in Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191.

According to the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, the number of students who said they worry a lot rose from 24 to 30 percent among boys and from 35 to 43 percent among girls since the last survey in 2013.

“Those are significant jumps,” though the numbers are similar to state averages, Assistant Superintendent Cyndi Amoroso told the School Board at an April 27 workshop. “Those are high jumps for this survey, and something that we really need to be paying attention to.”

The survey asks frank questions about topics such as sexual  health, school safety and chemical use. District 191’s results showed areas of improvement since the last survey and areas of concern, Amoroso said. The survey is administered statewide to students in the fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades (though fifth-graders don’t get all the questions older students do, Amoroso said). Parents can opt their children out of the survey.

The results have implications for health curriculum planning, school staffing and intervention programs, said Amoroso, who spotlighted several data points.

The biggest increase from the 2013 survey is the percentage of 11th-grade boys in District 191 who have seriously considered suicide.

It rose from 13 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2016. The statewide number is 16 percent in 2016. That’s the largest difference in the survey between state averages and District 191’s results.

The number of self-reported worriers reflects a range of students.

“We’re hearing a lot about trauma, we’re hearing about the impact of the immigration activities that have been going on,” Amoroso said. “There are a lot of things happening with our families and with our students and we’re certainly seeing that reflected in our student self-reporting.”

Students with anxieties include honors students worried about getting all their work done, said Michelle Henderson, an Eagle Ridge Middle School guidance counselor. They comprised a significant share of her first-quarter caseload, Henderson said.

Some students are anxious over their living situations, not sure where the family will stay next, she said.

Immigration has become a stressor for some students, said Headway Emotional Health Services’ Heather Gunderson, the school-based therapy coordinator at Metcalf Middle School. Overall, she said she gets referrals for students suffering anxiety, depression and trauma.

“Some of these kids, I’m just amazed” they can function at school given their difficult home lives, Gunderson said.

Eleventh-grade girls in District 191 say they’re less likely to use birth control than the statewide average of girls in 2016. More than a third of sexually active students don’t talk to their partners about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. More boys than girls fall into that category.

Amoroso highlighted falling alcohol use among district eighth-graders — “significant” declines since 2013 of 4 percent for boys and 6 percent for girls.

Eighth-grade girls in 191 are less likely to feel “valued and appreciated” by others than the statewide average.

“This is something we’ve been watching from our past surveys, and we are concerned,” Amoroso said. The district’s new middle-school model stresses “relationships and opportunities for students to be connecting more with the adults who can impact this.”

More District 191 girls at all grade levels surveyed reported feeling safe at school than three years ago. The greatest increase is 6 percent for 11th-grade girls.

Safety data for eighth-grade girls have improved over 2013, but “they continue to report higher incidences of being hit, beat, kicked or physically hurt and touched sexually against their wishes and being forced to touch any adult,” a district report said.

The use of sexual jokes, comments and gestures has fallen at all grade levels since 2013. Reported name-calling and put-downs of girls dating or in serious relationships has fallen since 2013, with the biggest drop among 11th-graders.

Among fifth-grade boys, 34 percent reported being physically bullied compared with 30 percent statewide in 2016. And 3 percent of them reported being bullied or harassed daily for their “gender expression.”

“We can’t compare this to the past because this was a brand new question on the survey,” Amoroso said.

Seventy-three percent of ninth-graders and 88 percent of 11th-graders say they’ve never been bullied for their gender expression.

Overall, more district students reported feeling that their teachers were interested in and cared about them than in 2013. That’s especially true among eighth-grade girls, who were “outliers” on that question in the previous survey.

Contact John Gessner at [email protected] or 952-846-2031.