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Association of California School Administrators
Association of California School Administrators
Tobacco use down, but students feel less safe, according to latest California Healthy Kids Survey
January 18, 2021
California students report less tobacco and alcohol use, but are experiencing more chronic sadness, according to the latest statewide survey of students about their health.
Results from the 2017–19 Biennial California Healthy Kids Survey
, one of the largest statewide surveys in the country, were released last month. Covering a period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the survey reflects student attitudes regarding social-emotional wellness, health risk behaviors and overall connectedness to school that can impact school climate, pupil engagement and academic achievement. Although the data do not reflect student attitudes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the results spotlight trends school leaders can use to direct resources to support student wellness.
“This survey gives educational leaders valuable insight about critical issues students were facing before the COVID-19 public health crisis exacerbated impacts on student wellness,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, in a release. “School leaders can compare these findings with the most current, real-time data they gather at the local level to identify important trends that have emerged since the onset of the coronavirus. Knowing if students are being bullied, struggling with depression, participating in high-risk behaviors, or feeling unsafe is vital information that can help school leaders make decisions and implement strategies that will facilitate improvement for not only students but the entire school community.”
The survey has been conducted every two years since 1985. The California Department of Education and the California Department of Health Care Services coordinated the survey of a representative, random sample of seventh, ninth and 11th graders throughout the state, and approximately 70 percent of school districts conducted the survey in their local schools.
Among the most positive findings: Alcohol use and cigarette smoking have been steadily declining since 2011–13. Binge drinking is now only reported by 4 percent of ninth graders and 9 percent of 11th graders — less than half the level six years ago. Cigarette smoking is down to 2 percent in high school.
There were declines in other areas that signal additional supports are needed; perceived school safety dropped markedly in all grades to the lowest rates in the last six years. Only 54 percent felt safe or very safe at school, compared to 61 percent in 2015–17. The findings also showed reports of experiencing chronic sadness or hopelessness rose in all three grades, to 30 percent in seventh grade, 33 percent in ninth, and 37 percent in 11th, the highest levels reported in the past six years — and before the pandemic.
“The students who reported feeling hopeless or sad when they participated in the survey may be grappling with those issues at more intense levels now due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus, social and racial unrest, and increased trauma,” Thurmond said. “Even though some schools are physically closed, it is imperative that students have access to school-based mental health services and support and that school staff do what they can to maintain connections with students during this challenging time.”
Thurmond and the CDE have made addressing social emotional health and student mental health an urgent priority in recent months. School districts are encouraged to use the remaining $2.1 billion in CARES Act funding available to schools to prioritize social emotional learning and mental health programs for students.
Last month, the CDE hosted its latest interactive professional development webinar for educators, designed to provide resources and strategies for building supportive connections with students in the virtual world across K–12 grade levels.
In June, Thurmond began convening leaders from the California Association of School Counselors, the California Association of School Psychologists, the California Association of School Social Workers and the California Alliance of Child and Family Services to begin identifying additional supports and resources for students in need. The CDE also has numerous resources for educators, families and students, including resources for students in crisis, students experiencing homelessness and foster youth. CDE’s guidance for the safe reopening of schools also addresses ways to support the mental health and well-being of all.
Additionally, the CDE and DHCS are collaborating under Project Cal-Well, a federally funded mental health project, to increase mental health awareness and expand access to student mental health services. Project Cal-Well provides free Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings to school and district staff at no cost. More information about Project Cal-Well and the YMHFA trainings is available at .
Find the full 2017–19 Biennial State CHKS report and individual school district reports on the CalSCHLS website.
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