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Ranking risk: Survey assesses prevalence of bullying, suicidal thoughts in Grand Forks schools

Illustration by Carli Greninger

One-third of Grand Forks middle school students said they've been bullied on school property, according to results of a survey released recently by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.

About 16 percent reported that they had seriously thought about killing themselves. 10.7 percent reported that they have ever made a plan about how they would do it, and 5.2 percent reported that they have attempted suicide.

More than 13 percent of them reported having tried alcohol.

These are some findings from the Youth Behavior Risk Survey which middle and high school students in Grand Forks completed last year.

Results of the survey, which is administered in odd-numbered years, were presented by Sarah Shimek, character education and prevention coordinator for Grand Forks Public Schools, at a meeting of the School Board earlier this week.

The survey measures behaviors that affect health and well-being, such as use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs; texting while driving; dietary behaviors, and sexual activity.

It focuses on behaviors related to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and young adults, and assesses how these behaviors change over time, Shimek said.

In Grand Forks, 1,376 middle school students—45.9 percent girls and 52.8 percent boys—completed the survey.

Nearly 1,600 high school students—47.8 percent girls and 51.7 percent boys—also took the survey, which differs from the one given to middle school students.

In addition to "risk" behavior, the survey also measures "protective data," which reflects activities that help students avoid unhealthy behavior, with questions such as, "How often do your parents or other adults in your family ask where you are going and with whom you'll be?"

How often students sit down for dinner with their families—a practice that is a predictor of kids' well-being and future success—is also measured in the survey.

Responses to those questions showed that students here have generally strong family attachments, Shimek said.

Some behaviors, however, are not healthy and, in some students, emerge early.

"Alcohol is still the No. 1 drug of choice for our students," Shimek said, noting that the age students take their first drink has dipped "to 11, 10, 9."

The survey revealed an uptick in the percentage of students who've tried a drink, from 11.5 in seventh grade to 17.4 in eighth.

One in five middle school students said they had been electronically bullied. More than twice as many girls as boys reported having been bullied that way, Shimek said.

Looking at the data on tobacco use, "we can see that prevention works," she said. But increases in the use of electronic vapor products is concerning, especially as manufacturers infuse "wonderful favors" to attract young consumers.

In several categories, high school students reported risk behaviors at higher rates than that of the state and region, such as dating violence or control, cyberbullying, marijuana use, and sexual behavior. (The region encompasses 21 schools in the Red River Valley Education Cooperative in northeastern North Dakota.)

In other categories, rates were lower. Almost 40 percent of Grand Forks high school students reported texting or emailing while driving, compared to 56.4 for the region and 52.6 for the state.

One in four students reported that someone had "hurt them on purpose or threatened to hurt them on purpose" in the 12 months prior to taking the survey.

Last year, Grand Forks became the first school district to survey students in grade six and all students in grades six through 12, Shimek said.

Normally, only a sampling of students in grades seven through 12 are surveyed.

Because all students in those grades took the survey, "we'll get more accurate data," she said. "We'll have a benchmark going forward."