'Chronic sadness' high in Winters students

These results come from a survey conducted by the Winters Joint Unified School District and the educational research service, WestEd

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“Chronic sadness” is plaguing Winters students, though results are more positive across other metrics, according to a survey conducted by the Winters Joint Unified School District and the Sacramento-based educational research service, WestEd. Winters High School teacher Rachel Cuffe presented the findings from Winters’ version of the California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), a statewide survey conducted every two years to examine the social-emotional and academic well-being of seventh, ninth and 11th grade California students. Questions cover topics like perceived school safety, use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, bullying and academic motivation. The survey was conducted in November last year. Trustees and audience members commented that rates of chronic sadness—determined by asking if students had felt so sad or hopeless that it interfered with normal functioning for two or more weeks over the past 12 months—were cause for alarm. According to the data, 19 percent of Winters seventh graders, 35 percent of ninth graders and 36 percent of 11th graders experienced chronic sadness. While Winters seventh graders are 5 percent below the 2015-2017 statewide averages, Winters ninth and 11th graders experienced more chronic sadness than their most recently studied statewide peers at 5- and 4-percent higher rates respectively. Trustee Michael Olivas said, “We need to do something because this is an alarming number. It’s something we should take a hard look at and see what we should do to help them.” Greg Moffitt, Winters Elementary School principal, said he found similar troubling results from student focus groups he tasked to create the 2019-2020 LCAP. “Toxic stress and mental health is probably one of the biggest epidemics facing students across the country right now,” Moffitt said. “[Winters] students reported feeling a lot of stress. They’re really wanting to feel a sense of connectedness with all of the adults at their school, and for the adults to understand that they’re going through a lot—at home, at work.” “Thankfully, every student that was in the focus groups and in our LCAP survey felt they were connected to at least one adult at their school, but we need them to feel connected to more.” Cuffe echoed the need for more connectedness between Winters students and their schools in the fight against chronic sadness. “I feel like it connects a lot with the school connectedness, which was not very high either,” Cuffe said. “I would hope that as school connectedness rises and students feel like they actually belong in school and they want to come to school that you would see sadness go down.” Although the percentage of Winters secondary students reporting a strong sense of school connectedness has dropped across all three studied grades since a five-year high in 2016, the numbers are significantly higher than their 2015-2017 statewide cohorts. Other positive trends included high rates of feeling safe at school and decreases in tobacco use, e-cigarettes or otherwise. Cuffe also presented data from surveys conducted on Winters parents and fifth graders and advised attendees to consider seemingly alarming numbers carefully. Fifth grade alcohol and drug use, for instance, seems distressingly high at 16 percent, Cuffe said, however, “one or two sips” accounts for 12 percent of total usage. “It’s important to really take the results when I give you this snapshot. Sometimes the results that we have seem a little crazy. So take it with a grain of salt.” The survey, conducted anonymously and held to a stringent scientific standards, also included staff across the district and parents of grades studied. Cuffe commended the Winters students, their parents and district employees for their participation. Concern was also raised about discrepancies between traditional education and the less frequently studied non-traditional students like those enrolled in independent study. Full survey results are published in the latest board meeting’s agenda packet and can be downloaded at https://www.wintersjusd.org/board_agendas_minutes.]]>

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