BENNINGTON >> A group of students at Mount Anthony Union Middle School have spent the last several months breaking down data about risky behaviors that their fellow students engage in, and on Thursday presented their findings to the community.
The school's Youth Leadership Team, which is made up of 19 seventh and eighth grade students and four advisors, have been analyzing the results of the 2013 middle school Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The survey is taken by students every other year, and steps are taken to ensure the anonymity of respondents so they don't feel compelled to be untruthful in their responses. From 1993 through 2011, students in grades eight through 12 took the survey, but in 2011, a middle school version of the test was added for students in grades six through eight. The statewide results of the 2015 survey have already been released, but the results for MAUMS are expected later this month.
The students worked with "Getting to the Y" trainer Erin Dezell, and talked about the elements of healthy development for adolescents. Then, on Jan. 28, with the help of Bennington College's director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action, Susan Sgorbati, the students travelled to the college for an all day retreat, where they talked about the data and the behaviors it represents.
"I'm so proud to see you all come out to support our kids this evening," said Patricia Johnson, team advisor and school counselor. Several parents and other notable members of the community were in attendance, including former board chairman Sean-Marie Oller, the Town of Bennington's economic and community development director, Michael Harrington, and youth educator Steve Breakstone. After dinner and an icebreaker, students asked audience members to guess the percentages of students who answered positively to various questions on the survey, and then asked them to compare their expectations with the actual results. Later, the students shared three strengths and three concerns regarding their school community that they gleaned from the 2013 data. On the bright side, 99 percent of students attended physical education classes one or more days a week, 95 percent of students said they think it is wrong or very wrong for someone their age to smoke cigarettes, and 0 percent who reported smoking said that they got their cigarettes from someone else or gave them money to purchase cigarettes. On the other hand, they also noted three areas in need of improvement: 20 percent of MAUMS students taking the survey said they had seriously committed suicide, 8 percent reported attempting suicide, and only 55 percent of students said that they thought that students their age greatly risk harming themselves if they have five or more drinks of alcohol once or twice each weekend.
Fellow advisor Hannah Green praised all the work Johnson has put into working with the students, giving her credit for the "lion's share" of the organizing. The team's other advisors were Melissa Cleary and Howard Moxley. The students who participated in the team were Asa Burrows-Crane, July Bushee, Molly Cohen, Owen Hansen, Wenonah Knapp, Madison Loftus, Faith Orzech, Kesha Patel, Noah Pembroke, Ashton Pringle, Mitchell Sausville, Logan Sprague, Olivia Surdam, Alexander Thompson, Patrick Watson, Sampson Wilkins, Shane Winney, Riley Young, and Jamia Velazquez.
The 2013 reports for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union are available on the Vermont Department of Health's website, as well as the statewide and countywide results for 2015. The SVSU results for 2015 will be available within the month, according the the department.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.