By John Higgins
Beacon Journal staff writer
Summit County's seventh-graders are telling educators this month how they feel about their schools, their academic abilities, their relationships and themselves.
The students are being asked to fill out confidential, nine-page surveys that are voluntary and anonymous in every way. Students' names aren't on them, and nobody will know who did or did not complete a survey.
County education officials hope the results will give them a better idea of what mental health and other social services are needed in the county's 17 school districts.
''We're probably the first in the state to do a countywide survey,'' said Linda Fuline, superintendent of the Summit County Educational Service Center. ''I think we're on the cutting edge of that.''
Akron's seventh-graders took the surveys last week.
Other Summit County districts are taking them in the next few weeks.
The Summit County ESC which provides curricular, administrative and teacher training to local districts prepared the survey with assistance from the Ohio State University.
Summit was among a handful of counties in the state that were awarded a grant to work with OSU to develop collaborations among school districts, community organizations and hospitals to address non-academic problems that interfere with learning.
The grant stems from the ''Family and Civic Engagement'' provisions in former governor Ted Strickland's two-year budget to connect students with community-based services and programs.
''The goal of the survey is to identify issues in a student's life that impacts their ability to make the most of their school experience,'' Fuline said.
She said the results will provide countywide statistics about the concerns of Summit county's 6,744 seventh-graders. Agencies can then use that data to better meet their needs.
''The schools won't have any of the results,'' Fuline said. ''Everything is happening here and tabulated here. They were printed here. It didn't cost the districts anything. It was part of the dollars that we had in the grant that we were able to do all of this.''
Parents who don't want their children to fill them out must tell the district, but nobody will know which children opted out.
Types of questions
Some of the questions focus on how much students agree with statements such as ''I am happy to be at my school,'' and ''I am confident in my reading abilities in school'' and ''My teachers have high academic expectations for me.''
One section asks students to rate how much stress they felt in the last month about their personal relationships with family, friends and teachers, school work, lack of study skills, time management pressures and concerns about personal health and safety.
Another section asks kids about their feelings over the last week and whether their moods affected their appetite or sleep habits.
The survey has three questions about sex:
• Have you ever had sex?
• If you do have sex, do you consistently use protection?
• As far as you know, how many of your friends have had sex in the past six months? [students choose none, a few, some, about half, most of them or all of them.]
Although districts administering the survey cannot change the wording of any questions, they can ask for questions to be removed and some districts have taken out the three sex questions, Fuline said.
The survey also asks frank questions about body image, suicide, and the use of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
Body image questions include:
• Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
• Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
• Have you recently lost more than 14 pounds in a three-month period?
• Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are too thin?
• Would you say that food dominates your life?
The suicide questions are:
• Have you ever intentionally harmed yourself in any way?
• Has there ever been a time when things were so bad you thought about killing yourself?
• Have you ever made a serious attempt to kill yourself?
The survey also includes three questions about alcohol, tobacco and marijuana use:
• How many occasions have you had beer, wine or hard liquor during the past 30 days? [students choose 0, 1-2 occasions, 3-5 occasions or 6 or more occasions].
• How frequently have you smoked cigarettes during the past 30 days? [students choose not at all, less than one cigarette per day, one to five cigarettes per day, or one pack or more per day.]
The rest of the survey asks students questions about bullying, opinions about their school, gender, race, plans after school, average grades they get in school and whether they live with one or both parents or another arrangement.