San Dieguito district uses Healthy Kids Survey to help shape how they keep students safe

As part of their ongoing discussions about student safety and support, the San Dieguito Union School District board members recently took a look at the results of the 2014-15 Healthy Kids Survey, a tool the district uses to develop ways to create interventions specific to the needs of students in areas such as drug use and physical and mental health.

About 7,000 students participated in the survey between February and April 2015.

The board discussed the survey at its Sept. 3 meeting. According to the survey, lifetime and past-month use of marijuana and other drug use is down among middle school students, although e-cigarette use is up from 2 percent to 9.78 percent.

At the high school level, e-cig or “vape pen” use has jumped from 17 percent to 33 percent lifetime and from 8 percent to 18 percent in the past 30 days.

Lifetime and past-month numbers for almost all substances stayed the same or dropped in high schools. Trustee Mo Muir reiterated that she has a lot of concerns about drugs in the high schools.

“It’s still going on and it’s scary,” Muir said. “As a parent, I’m very afraid.”

Tiffany Findell, a counselor with the district’s READI program, spoke about the efforts the district takes to address drug and alcohol issues with students. The READI program is the district’s suspension alternative for students who are found to be in possession of alcohol or drugs, or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The student completes two days of classroom education at La Costa Canyon, 10 hours of community service, five hours of recovery meetings, journaling and self-reflective activities and participation in a minimum of six counseling sessions.

Of those who have gone through the READI program, Findell said, only 10 percent have repeat issues.

Findell said she likes looking at the Healthy Kids Survey because it gives the district insight on its strengths as well as ways it can continue to improve.

She said a high point of the survey was that 93 percent of middle school students and 94 percent of high school students feel that a teacher or other adult at school cares about them, with numbers increasing for students who said they feel safe at school.

There was a slight increase at the middle school and high school levels for students who reported feeling so sad that they stopped doing usual activities, something Findell said they should keep an eye on.

Findell said there is opportunity for improvement in two areas: Only 68 percent of high school students reported feeling as if they were part of the school, and students who identified as non-white had the lowest rates on questions pertaining to school connectedness.

As part of the discussion on student safety and support, Rick Ayala, director of pupil services and alternative programs and principal at Sunset High School, talked about the district’s “restorative practices.”

Restorative practices are efforts made to “humanize” everyone involved and get to the reason why a student is acting a certain way.

“It’s a more proactive approach. It can be reactive, too, but we’re looking to prevent negative behavior,” Ayala said.

An effort is made to have students feel that those in authority positions are doing things with them, giving students a sense of ownership about what’s going on and what’s expected of them.

“We bring the student in to become a part of the solution, rather than just handing out punishment,” Ayala said. “It’s a very effective tool.”

He also reported that suspensions and expulsions are below the state rate and have seen a dramatic decline over the past seven years.

In the 2008-09 school year, there were 669 suspensions and 20 expulsions; and last year, there were 204 suspensions and eight expulsions.

Ayala said he believes there are a number of reasons why the numbers have dropped, including district and site-level communication to address and prevent issues, more activities that promote inclusiveness and the fact that the culture has changed and students are more willing to report things they are concerned about.