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Student wellness survey helps shape curriculum

Thousands of students in East Multnomah County are filling out surveys about their health and family habits so school districts and government agencies can tailor curriculum and programs to the real-life needs of students and their families.

“The surveys give us information about student behavior around drugs, bullying, sense of safety, school attendance, etc.,” said Cheryl Williamson, director of curriculum and student learning at Centennial School District.

The Oregon Student Wellness survey is filled out anonymously by students in grades 6, 8 and 11 every other year. The focus and topics change with every survey. This year the survey is being administered Feb. 1 through April 8.

The survey results go back to the schools in the districts.

“We have used this in the past to modify our health curriculum at the high school,” Williamson said in an email.

For example, when the survey showed more students were saying they smoked, Centennial High School decided to focus more on the dangers of cigarettes. Reynolds also uses the information for lesson content in health classes and also for grants, while county and state health departments use the information for planning programs.

The 2015-16 survey asks students to rate their mental and physical health and asks multiple questions about bullying and substance abuse. For example, it asks students to list how many times they have used marijuana in the last 30 days. It also asks students to say if they felt they did not have enough to eat or had to wear dirty clothes.

Parents get a letter from the districts explaining that participation is not mandatory.

An activist group calling itself Parent’s Rights in Education — Oregon sent press releases to multiple news agencies in Oregon charging the survey is an invasion of privacy for families. But school districts in East Multnomah County said they were not aware of any parents objecting to the survey, and nobody from Parent’s Rights responded to attempts to contact the group.

“Generally there is little to no concern expressed regarding the surveys,” said Athena Vadnais, communications director of the Gresham-Barlow School District.

The Centennial School District did not report any parent objections to the surveys, but some teachers didn’t want to lose the 20 minutes of class time it takes for students to fill out the forms, Williamson said.

Some Reynolds School District teachers have expressed concern that some of the questions might expose students to practices and issues they didn’t know about until they took the survey, said Andrea Watson, Reynolds School District director of communications.

The survey is a collaborative effort between the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education. School districts, which pay nothing for the surveys, will get the confidential results in June.

To view the survey for sixth and eighth graders, visit oregon.pridesurveys.com/documents/2015/SWS%206-8%202016%2011.10.15.pdf.