California Healthy Kids Survey reveals alarming results

November 22, 2019 — by Ethan Lin and Allen Luo

  The recently released results of the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS) have shown some responses that are concerning to school staff members and parents.

Students took the survey last March and were asked about mental health, substance abuse and school safety among other topics.

Among other concerning findings were that of about 1,164 students surveyed, around 33 said they had attempted suicide, 196 seriously considered suicide and 56 made a plan for suicide. Additionally, 232 students had used nicotine or marijuana and 267 had used a form of drugs or tobacco in the 12 months prior to the survey.  

CHKS is part of a larger nationwide attempt to assess students on various topics, ranging from health to school safety.

“It is the largest, most comprehensive effort in the nation to regularly assess students, staff and parents to provide key data on school climate and safety, learning supports and barriers, stakeholder engagement, youth development, health and well-being,” assistant principal Kerry Mohnike  said.

According to CalSCHLS, the official website for the CHKS, the survey includes a core body that consists of five main sections: student connectedness, learning engagement and attendance; school climate, culture and conditions; school safety; physical and mental wellbeing and student supports. The survey is administered to students in  elementary school, middle school and high school.

Mohnike said that the high school version is comprised of a core module that is standardized for every survey, and optional, additional sections focused on one or two more topics.

These optional sections were chosen by schools that conducted the survey to add to the core of the survey to better suit their student body and receive the best results possible. These choices could be from modules, including school climate, social-emotional and physical health, substance use and other risk factors.

The Los Gatos Saratoga High School District opted to choose topics comprising of alcohol, drugs, safety and violence and social-emotional health. 

The purpose of the survey was to gather data that would promote better relationships among students and teachers and indirectly boost academic and behavioral morale, Mohnike said. 

Since the survey was last administered by the district a decade ago, there has been a substantial increase in measurements of depression and suicidal thoughts. Feelings of  sadness to the point of stopping usual activities increased by about 25 percent in juniors, but freshman numbers only increased by only about 4 percent. Suicidal thoughts among juniors increased by about 30 percent, while actually decreasing in freshmen by roughly 10 percent.

To some teachers, these results are directly correlated to  academic pressure that students experience at school.

“I am alarmed by these numbers,” Spanish teacher Bret Yeilding said. “I would say the number one factor for that is academic stress. It comes from a lot of different areas, some of it self-imposed.”

Currently, the administration is looking into ways of addressing the problems the survey underscored. Over the last seven years, multiple new additions have been implemented to help students with their stress and anxiety, including the tutoring and student centers as well as a new mental health-focused wellness facility for CASSY (Citizen Assistance and Support System).

“If we can create a campus environment that is emotionally safe for students six to eight hours a day, that would be a third or a quarter of their day, we might be able to help support students who are in need of help and be more of an influence,” principal Greg Louie said.

The administration has also looked into a more interactive approach in aiding students. For example, last year, the week-long Breaking Down the Walls program was added to unify and empower students on campus to create a more positive and supportive culture. Speak Up for Change Week and the Just be Kind Assembly were also products of this approach.

Students, parents and staff discussed the results at the recent World Cafe, hosted on Nov. 20 in the school library. The event was set up by administrators to reflect on student health, connectedness and sense of purpose. 

Those who attended were split up into table groups, each with at least one or two parents, one student and one teacher, to encourage discussion among different attendees about topics being asked. Groups were then scrambled after each discussion. The questions centered around possible solutions to problems posed from the survey.

“Our hope is at the end of the night, we can have a canvas of ideas and connections for certain issues that we can take steps toward accomplishing in the future,” Mohnike said while leading the activity. 

Many of the topics centered around health, including how stress affects the mental wellbeing of students and what the school can do to alleviate some of it. 

The discussion also touched on some other results that were not health-based. In the survey, 114 students who stated that they do not have a purpose to their life. This statistic may seem unimportant in comparison to topics such as suicide and drug abuse, but assistant principal Brian Safine said that this lack of motivation is likely a significant cause of depression. Attendees also discussed the importance of student connections and how to promote it.

Teachers discussed the results of the survey during an early-November faculty meeting.

Yeilding said the school has dealt with these kinds of problems for years and won’t completely solve them. But, he noted, “What I’m looking for is a good place for kids to go when they are feeling these things, but we could do better.” 

If students, parents or staff are interested in the results, and want to see the full report of the survey, they can access it at this link with a email. 


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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.


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