MT. PLEASANT—The North Sanpete School District generally came out better than average on the Student Health and Risk Prevention (SHARP), a detailed survey that asks students about problematic behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, as well as factors that help prevent such problems, such as positive peers and involvement in school activities.
But the results of the survey, administered in 2021, do point to areas of concern, Elise Hanson, a counselor in the district, told the North Sanpete School Board last Tuesday, Feb. 1.
The SHARP survey, containing more than 200 questions, is developed by Bach Harrison, a Salt Lake City social science research firm, and is used in 11 states. In Utah, it is administered every other year in virtually all schools, with costs covered by the Utah Department of Human Resources.
Most Utah schools administer the survey in Grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. But going back to 2005, the North Sanpete District has given it to students in the sixth and eighth grades, and to all students at North Sanpete High School.
Hanson said the responses, and trends in responses over the years can help the school district figure out how to help students who are at risk. The numbers can also support grant requests.
Hanson reviewed some of the results related to alcohol, drugs, smoking, and vaping. The percentage of students who reported having ever used alcohol and having used it in the past 30 days was higher in 2021 than in 2017, she said.
“Even though it’s not very high” compared to the norm for the 11 states using SHARP, “you can see that it’s gone up,” Hanson said. “Another thing you can see is that some kids believe everybody does it,” even though the survey shows that isn’t true.
“Marijuana is a concern,” she said. “That’s gone up” compared to four years ago.
While the percentage of students smoking cigarettes stayed flat or dropped, the percentage of vaping went up sharply compared to the surveys from two and four years ago. “So that’s a concern,” Hanson said.
The survey divides questions about risks and preventive factors into four subject areas: community domain, family domain, school domain, and peer/individual sphere.
In the community domain, the percentage of students with low attachment to their neighborhoods increased from 24.6 percent in 2017 to 35.7 percent in 2021.
In the family domain, Hanson said student perceptions that their parents had favorable attitudes toward behaviors such as smoking and drinking went up several percentage points in 2021, compared to earlier surveys.
“So they’re perceiving that their parents are okay with them doing some of these things, and that’s a concern,” she said.
In the school domain, the percentage who, based on responses, showed a low commitment to school went from 43.6 percent in 2017, to 46.8 percent in 2019, to 48.2 percent (nearly half) in 2021. The 2021 percentage was above the 11-state Bach-Harrison norm.
“…We’ve got a great community (and) usually we’re well below what the norms are (on a commitment to school), so when we’re above, that’s just a little bit of a concern,” Hanson told the school board.
However, students also reported there were opportunities and rewards for involvement in positive things in their schools. North Sanpete was above the norm in student perception of opportunities to get involved.
Hanson noted that the high school has a goal of getting every student involved in at least one club or activity. “Studies show that the more involved kids are, the more likely they are to be successful,” she said.
On the “peer/individual” yardstick, the percentage of students who did not view drug use as particularly risky went from 27% in 2017 to 35% in 2019. “So again,” Hanson said, “they’re thinking it’s OK. They don’t regard it as being dangerous as it used to be.”
The percentage who said they were experiencing depression went from 33 percent in 2017 to 38 percent in 2021, which is “a little above the norm,” Hanson said.
Superintendent Nan Ault said the district is required to release the whole survey to the public but hadn’t decided when or how to do that.
The school board also heard a report from Rena Orton, principal at Mt. Pleasant Elementary. The student body officers at the school also participated in the presentation.
She said the school goal is to get 80 percent of students scoring “green” or “blue” in reading by the end of the year. Green means the student is on grade level while blue signifies the student is above grade level.
At the beginning of the year, 20 percent of students were on the red scale, which means they were two grades or more below grade level. The school is working to reduce that share by 6 percent, Orton said.
“Our second and third grades, where kids are learning to read, we still have some work there,” she said. In fourth grade, “We’ve made a few gains. Our red’s a little bit lower.”
She said Mt. Pleasant kindergarten students are scoring at the top of the district, adding, “Our sixth grade looks really good, too.”