The School District of Mystery Lake board of trustees gave the Adolescent Health Education Committee the go-ahead to administer their 12th Youth Behaviour Survey next October during their April 9 meeting.
Started in 1985, the survey has been given every two to three years and asks students about topics such as nutrition, physical activity, sleep, drug use, gambling, mental health, bullying and sexuality. Students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 are eligible to complete the survey, though prior to 1992 Grade 7 and Grade 8 students were not included.
“The main value of the survey is it provides an overall picture to service providers of youth in Thompson,” said Northern Regional health Authority (NRHA) public health nurse Lisa Paul, who works in R.D. Parker Collegiate. That information is helpful to school counsellors as well as to staff in outside agencies and organizations focusing on youth.
AHEC chairperson Paul Fricker, a resource teacher at RDPC, said communicating the results was a key goal the last time the survey was done in 2016.
“We had a forum for the school counsellors and the administrators,” said Fricker. “We provided Power Points and discussion exercises for the schools to use in their staff meetings. I felt that was one of the bigger gains we made in this cycle. We did a better job of sharing the information with the stakeholders.”
It was also posted on the SDML and NRHA websites.
That said, Fricker hopes this time to make communication more of a two-way street.
“We don’t have a process for getting feedback from stakeholders in the community about the actual survey itself, how practically useful it is and what the level of use is,” he said.
The survey doesn’t change substantively from one round to the next in order to make statistical comparisons over time meaningful, but minor changes are always being made, Fricker said in response to a question from board chairperson Don MacDonald.
“We tweak it all the time to improve it,” he said, particularly in regard to current vocabulary, noting that the term “commit suicide” is no longer used in favour of current terminology like “died by suicide." The subjects of vaping and pornography have been added for next fall’s survey.
Trustee Samantha Chartrand asked how students’ personal information is protected.
“They don’t put their names on it,” said Paul. "It’s anonymous.” She added that the questions are multiple-choice. “It’s no writing. Nobody has to print anything.”
Chartrand also asked how survey administrators deal with questions possibly causing emotional distress, such as in the case of a student disclosing that they had suffered abuse for the first time.
Fricker said they ensure that schools have counsellors on duty at the time the survey is administered. “If you find that you feel upset after this survey you can go see a counsellor,” Fricker said.
MacDonald added that having this kind of information dating back to the mid-1980s is helpful for anyone working with youth.
“It’s a nice tool to have,” he said.