Survey seeks to identify risky behavior by Greenwich youth

February 6, 2018 GMT

GREENWICH — Middle and high school students throughout town will be surveyed this month in a townwide effort to identify and then address Greenwich youth’s most risky behaviors.

The survey, which will be administered in Greenwich Public Schools, Greenwich Academy, Brunswick School, Greenwich Country Day School, Greenwich Catholic School, Stanwich School, Whitby School and Sacred Heart Greenwich, will ask students about their activities, beliefs and relationships, as well as substance use, bullying and social media behaviors.

Data from the surveys will be used to apply for a $125,000 per year grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to support drug-free communities.

“The problem we’ve had in the past is assuming we know what the issues are,” said Alan Barry, commissioner of the Greenwich Department of Human Services and co-chair of the Greenwich Prevention Council, which is behind the survey effort. Having data is crucial to developing “effective strategies,” he said.

Students in grades 7 through 12 will take the surveys at their schools. Greenwich Public Schools will administer the surveys to a random sample of half its students in those grades by selecting specific classes across all grade levels, according to a letter sent to parents by the district. Some private schools will give the survey to all students grades 7 through 12.

The surveys will be anonymous, and there will be no way to track the data back to a student, said Debbie Katz, director of Outreach and Community Initiatives for Kids in Crisis, a leader of the survey effort for Greenwich Prevention Council. Survey data will be compiled by the Search Institute, a national nonprofit that does research on youth projects and developed part of the survey’s questionnaire.

The data will be returned to Greenwich two to four weeks after the survey is administered, Katz said. Individual schools’ data will be compiled into townwide results, which will be made available to the public.

The survey will cost $11,000 to administer. The Board of Education agreed by a unanimous vote Jan. 18 that Greenwich Public Schools will pay half the cost. Greenwich private schools are covering the rest, paying between $300 and $1,400 depending on their size, Katz said.

Greenwich Academy’s Head of School Molly King said she viewed the survey as a “worthy community cause.”

“As part of our strategic plan, Greenwich Academy is focused on programmatic and co-curricular initiatives that promote health and wellness,” she said. “Participating in a townwide survey demonstrates to our students that GA’s goals and values extend beyond our campus to include the broader community.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich’s Head of School Pam Hayes said her school may use the survey results to refine their wellness curriculum.

“We hope that this survey can help educate both parents and students across Greenwich so changes, if and where necessary, can take place,” she said. “Being able to collaborate and share information with other Greenwich schools should lead us to be able to pool resources and share areas of expertise.”

Ingrid Gillespie, executive director of Communities For Action, provided technical assistance to the Greenwich Prevention Council on how to implement the youth survey over the past year and is now training schools on how to conduct it. She will write Greenwich’s application for the federal Drug-Free Communities Support Program grant.

The grant will be awarded to 120 towns across the country, but Gillespie told the Board of Education she thought Greenwich had a strong chance.

Darien has also conducted this youth survey with its students and is receiving a Drug-Free Communities grant for the third straight year, Gillespie said. Their surveys indicated that teen binge drinking was a problem in Darien. With grant funding, the town conducted a social media campaign around alcohol use targeting youth and families.

“It’s had remarkable results,” said Katz.

The Prevention Council focused the survey questions around substance abuse, cyberbullying and social media use because they predicted those might be areas of concern among Greenwich youth, Katz said, but the Council did not develop any formal hypotheses.

Having a townwide coalition like the Prevention Council is a requirement for applying for a Drug-Free Communities Grant. Greenwich’s council is co-chaired by Police Chief Jim Heavey and has 32 members from various sectors of the community, such as education, law enforcement, business and health services.

“The cooperation has really been tremendous,” said Barry, a council co-chair.

Head of Brunswick School Tom Philip said, “It is clear that meaningful results will only come from the survey if all stakeholders in the town participate. Any information we can gather about patterns of usage and areas requiring particular attention is to the benefit of all our children.”

emunson@greenwichtime.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson