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Mercer Island High School students say parents aren't very involved

A new survey of students at Mercer Island High School found that they feel less connected with their parents than in the past and 84 percent spend time on activities other than school work.

The Survey of Student Resources and Assets, done by the nonprofit organizations America’s Promise and Search Institute every other year, is used by the Mercer Island School District to see where changes need to be made and addressed in the school and community. The survey, given in April of 2008, was completed by 870 students in all high school grades. The last time that the survey was done, in 2006, it was administered to only freshmen and juniors.

“As we think about the 2020 vision, the goal is to help our students make better personal choices,” said Superintendent Gary Plano. He added that he felt a need to expand course offerings to give students a curriculum that will allow them to understand and make choices which will benefit their long-term goals.

Director of Instruction and Assessment Michael Schiehser said that they found some interesting changes when comparing previous years’ results — most noticeably, a large drop in perceived parental involvement. Schiehser told School Board members during the Feb. 26 meeting that the category went from 23 percent of students feeling like their parents were involved in their lives in 2006 to 16 percent in 2008.

Some of the board members questioned how much these changes were affected by the addition of the sophomores and seniors to the survey. Board member Pat Braman wondered if this change results from when students get older and parents naturally become a little less involved.

“If there is a drop in student perception of parental help, then we should find out why,” said School Board member John DeVleming.

According to the survey, 84 percent of the students participate in an activity outside of their regular classes three or more hours every week, positive proof that students are busy with extracurricular activities.

“Our kids are busy. They’ve got lots to do,” said Schiehser. However, the results show that those activities are less likely to include volunteer hours, an area where the district has always been low.

“Our kids don’t have a lot of time to do service projects,” said Braman. On the whole, in the category of hours per week spent in service, or volunteering, a majority of students responded that they either don’t do service projects or spent little time doing them. Fifty-two percent said they spend no time helping other people without getting paid, while 37 percent said they volunteer one to two hours a week. Forty-nine percent of those who responded said that during the past year, they have been asked to help with a service or volunteer project three or more times.

The survey uses the questions to gather information on what is called “internal” or “external assets.” External assets are considered positive experiences in which a student is surrounded by “support, empowerment, boundaries and expectations, and opportunities for constructive use of time” by parents, the school and other members of the community, according to the review. Internal assets are a student’s personal values and commitments. Studies show that students who have a larger number of assets feel welcomed and cared about by not only their parents and immediate family, but also the community. These students also engage in fewer risk-taking behaviors.

“In other words, the more assets a young person experiences, the more likely it is that he or she will choose a healthy lifestyle,” said the report.

The survey concludes that students who had at least 31 of the 40 developmental assets are the least likely to engage in risky behaviors. Nine percent of MIHS students who responded had 31 or more assets, meaning that they felt well connected and supported by their community, family and school. On average, students who responded had 19.6 of the 40 assets, with girls having slightly more assets than their male classmates at 20.8, compared to 18.2.

Risk-taking behavior questions asked in the survey addressed alcohol, tobacco and marijuana usage. Students were also asked what types of grades they receive.

Thirty-eight percent of students said that they had used alcohol once or more in the past 30 days. Of those students, 49 percent had between zero and 10 assets, and 17 percent had 31 to 40 assets.

Results were discussed with students during their BRIDGES classes and a Communities that Care Coalition meeting. The data will also be used by the district when updating the school improvement plan, as well as in planning curriculum to encourage positive behavior. The results are being used in conjunction with the answers from the Healthy Youth Survey, given every other year through the state.

“There’s more analysis to be done and more questions to be answered,” said Schiehser.

The survey is paid for by the district, costing $3,650, according to Liz Ziara, associate superintendent of business services for the district.

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