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Elmbrook School District high school students are generally healthy, both physically and mentally, compared to other students around the state.

At least that’s what the results of a youth risk behavior survey conducted last fall show.

The district made plans to administer the survey last summer as it continues efforts to ensure the wellness of its students following a pair of suicides last year.

District officials prepared two separate reports on the results, one measuring high school students compared to others around the state and country, the second comparing behavior within the district from grades 6 through 12.

Cigarette smoking

In general, Elmbrook high school students said that they took part in risky behaviors less than their statewide and nationwide counterparts. For example, 10.6 percent said that they have smoked a cigarette at some point in their lives compared with 33.2 percent among all Wisconsin students and 41.1 across the country.

“I think that overall our kids look super healthy and are making wise decisions based on risk behavior compared to the state and the nation,” said Tanya Fredrich, Elmbrook's director of student services.

State and nationwide data, when available, were almost entirely based on the 2013 Center for Disease Control Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System or the 2013 Wisconsin Department of Public instruction Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Alcohol

Elmbrook high school students reported having had at least one drink of alcohol at some point during their lives at a 43.7 percent clip compared with 65.9 in Wisconsin and 66.2 in the United States. 18.4 percent said that they drank in the last 30 days and 8 percent responded that they had had five or more drinks at one time during the past 30 days. 32.7 percent of Wisconsin students said that they had had at least one drink in the past 30 days and 18.4 said that they had had five or more. Nationwide, the numbers came in at 34.9 and 20.8 percent respectively.

Sexual activity 

According to the results of the survey, Elmbrook students are also generally less sexually active than their counterparts across the state and country; 15.5 percent said that they have had sexual intercourse, compared with 35.3 in Wisconsin and 46.8 across the country.

One worrying trend to come out of the survey is that only 10.4 percent of Elmbrook students said that they used a condom during their last sexual encounter. That's much lower than the state (62.5 percent) and national (59.1 percent) averages. Similarly, only 12.3 percent of currently sexually active students said that they are on some form of birth control.

“We don’t have a lot of students who have high-risk behavior, but it seems like the students who do, it’s pretty significant,” Fredrich said. “Human Growth and Development is a curriculum that is written with an advisory committee that has to have a lot of various representative stakeholders, so that would be something that we would really have to talk about as a community.”

Fredrich noted that the current curriculum does include instruction about condoms and birth control.

“I think that family that have looked at this have said, ‘Wow that’s shocking. We probably need to know more about that to see what we would need to do,’” Fredrich said. “Further conversation and investigation is needed.”

Mental health

In terms of mental health, Elmbrook high school students were either on par or generally less at-risk than students surveyed in 2013 from other districts.

Still, Fredrich said that there are reasons to be concerned. 21.1 percent of Elmbrook students reported having felt “so sad or hopeless” for an extended period of time in the past year to the point that they stopped doing some of their usual activities. That compares with 24.6 percent in Wisconsin and 29.9 percent in the U.S. 11 percent of Elmbrook students said that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 12 months with 5.9 percent saying that they had gone as far as to make a plan and 2.6 percent saying that they had actually attempted suicide in the last year.

“We want to continue to think about what our kids are experiencing and, if they are having mental health concerns, how do we help them find hope and optimism,” Fredrich said.

Bullying

Bullying was another area that led to concern for Fredrich and her colleagues.

While Elmbrook high school students responded that they had been in less physical altercations than their state and U.S. counterparts, 15.3 percent said that they had been electronically bullied in the past year and 16.6 percent said that they had been bullied on school property. More than one in four students (26.9 percent) said harassment and bullying is a problem at school.

“We’re having conversations about how do we create a culture where all kids feel that they belong,” Fredrich said. “I think that when you look at that section, our students look healthier than those in state and national norms, but it’s still something that we want to be diligent with.”

Other behaviors 

Other survey results:

  • 4.8 percent of students said that they had been verbally or physically forced to take part in sexual activity at some point
  • 26.5 percent admitted to having texted or emailed while driving 
  • 14.7 percent admitted to having used marijuana at least once and 7 percent said that they had used a prescription drug improperly at some point
  • 7.4 percent said that they had been offered, purchased or received an illegal drug on school property in the past year. That's much lower than the Wisconsin (18.3 percent) and national (22.1 percent) figures. 
  • 74.2 percent said they have at least one teacher or other adult in school that they feel they can talk to if they have a problem

Middle school results

Elmbrook also surveyed its middle school students, albeit with some different prompts.

Some responses were much higher among middle school students, such as bullying, where nearly half the students (45.9 percent of sixth-graders, 43.7 percent of seventh-graders and 48.8 percent of eighth-graders) reported that they had been bullied.

One out of 10 sixth-graders reported having seriously considered suicide, along with 8.9 percent of seventh-graders and 12.5 percent of eighth-graders.

1.1 percent of eighth-graders reported having had sexual intercourse, while sixth- and seventh-graders were under 1 percent.

More surveys scheduled

The district plans to survey students again in three-year increments to recognize and analyze trends as students grow up. Fredrich said Elmbrook officials and community partners are already having conversations about how to address this year’s results.

Students were given the chance to opt out of taking the survey, but 81 percent, or 2,035 of Brookfield East and Brookfield Central’s 2,512 students agreed to respond, with 81 percent of the district’s 1,609 middle-schoolers also taking part.

“We’re really pleased to see how healthy they are as a whole,” Fredrich said. “I think the question then becomes just because you look healthier than the national norm or the state norm, how does your local community feel and how can we be even healthier?”

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