Survey examines kids’ attitudes

FAIRMONT – The 2013 Minnesota School Survey held some surprises for Fairmont Area Schools.

“There’s some really good news [in the survey], and some issues that will perk you up a bit,” Superintendent Joe Brown told school board members this week.

Covering a wide variety of school-related topics, the survey was administered in early 2013 with 280 of 334 Minnesota public school districts participating.

Surveys are conducted every three years, with grades 5, 8, 9 and 11. Local students who took the survey are now in grades 6, 9, 10 and 12.

One area Brown called “kind of positive” focused on students’ communication with parents, specifically their mothers. More than 90 percent of Fairmont fifth-graders indicated they could talk to their mothers about problems some or most of the time. This figure decreased slightly by the time they reached the 11th grade.

Bullying was another area covered by the survey, with girls in all four grades reporting more cyberbullying than their male classmates.

“There really is a distinction between the boys and girls,” said Brown, noting that 18 percent of 11th-grade girls were bullied at least once or twice per week through texts, emails or other digital media, while only 4 percent of males shared the same experience.

Bullying or harassment by fellow students in grades 5 and 8 occurred once or twice a month as many as 24 percent of students, but declined to about 10 percent of students in grade 9.

“It still startles me,” Brown said about the frequency of bullying.

He noted there are 72 cameras at the elementary school and 96 at the high school, all of which should deter aggressive behavior. While the number of cameras hasn’t wiped out bullying, the vast majority of those surveyed indicated they feel safe at school, with 90 percent to 98 percent responding positively.

“That’s pretty high,” Brown said.

A similar percentage also felt safe in their homes, neighborhoods, and going to and from school.

One area of the survey dealing with family life elicited concern from Brown: Only about 60 percent of fifth-graders live with both biological parents.

“Family stability is an issue that’s a concern to me,” Brown said.

He pointed out another shocking number. When asked if a parent or guardian had ever been in jail or prison, 18 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys in grade 11 responded “Yes.”

“That’s almost one out of every five 11th-graders,” Brown said.

While there were some unpleasant findings, there also were positive results.

Every fifth-grader responded that he or she had not used marijuana in the past 12 months, and more than 85 percent of ninth-graders have never tried marijuana.

In the category of vehicle safety, 84 percent of 11th-grade girls wear a seat belt while driving, and 92 percent of them wear a seat belt when riding in the front seat of a car.

However, 16 percent of these young women admit to reading incoming text messages while driving, while 14 percent admit to sending texts while behind the wheel.

Roughly three-quarters of students in grades 5, 8 and 9 spend an hour or two doing homework on a typical school day. That number drops to around 60 percent of the 11th-graders. This might be explained by the fact that almost 40 percent of them also work 6 to 20 hours per week.

According to the report, about 2 percent of the surveys were eliminated from analyses for various reasons, including highly inconsistent responses or a pattern of likely exaggeration. Results were compiled by analysts at the Minnesota Department of Health. Student participation is voluntary and surveys were anonymous.

Anyone who would like a copy of the survey may contact the district office located at Fairmont Elementary School.