School Committee members were offered an eye-opening report that half of Everett students surveyed do not feel safe according to a survey presented during Monday’s School Committee meeting at Everett High School.
EPS Health and Wellness Coordinator Julie Ann Whitson and Senior Project Manager Alec McKinney, of John Snow Inc., a public health consulting firm that has been doing youth risk surveys for 20 years, presented the survey results.
Approximately 50 percent of students reported that they don’t feel safe, with gender minority and sexual minority, including transgender, homosexual, and lesbian numbers higher. During a slideshow presentation, McKinney said rates are low of students carrying a knife or weapon with a slight uptick in gender and sexual minority cases. McKinney said physical fights were most common among middle school boys, with a 40 percent increase since 2015. Multi-racial students also tend to be in more fights, according to McKinney.
School Committee member At-Large Cynthia Sarnie asked Whitson and McKinney with the data presented, what they can do to help children.
Whitson said coming out of the pandemic is difficult for everyone; however, the administration budgeted for increased socioeconomic support, which includes counselors. Continuing to support gender and sexual minority students is key, according to Whitson. She worked at Cambridge Health Alliance in 2002, when they implemented the first survey, and she has appreciated the progress made since then.
Sarnie said there is a lot of bullying and drugs going on in the district. She asked how they discuss accepting everyone for who they are.
Whitson said pre-COVID-19 they had a lot more assemblies.
Sarnie asked regarding drugs/alcohol, have they ever had people from jail come in for an assembly. Whitson said every year they have staff speak to the freshmen. Deb Fallon from Portal to Hope is speaking this week.
School Committee Vice Chair Michael McLaughlin said several slides have been eye opening to him as a School Committee member. He asked which middle school students are from.
McKinney said middle school students responded with a 91 percent response rate; he thinks he can get a breakdown by school for McLaughlin. Approximately 77 percent of high school students responded to the survey.
McLaughlin said he’d like to see this go to a committee to discuss these slides more in depth. He made a motion to send it into committee.
“It’s eye opening how many children don’t feel safe,” McLaughlin said. “I wonder why they don’t feel safe — what can we do to help make them feel more safe?”
McKinney noted that they didn’t ask why in the survey, but they did ask students if they feel unsafe at school and while traveling to- and from- school. They didn’t tag students by zip code.
McLaughlin said overall, data is helpful, but he’d like to understand why they answered the questions in the way that they did.
“Approximately 2/3 aren’t happy being in schools concerning middle school students,” McLaughlin said. “That’s alarming, to be truthful.”
McLaughlin said it’s alarming that local numbers are higher than the state average.
School Committee member At-Large Samantha Lambert said so much of Whitson’s work in vaping numbers declining demonstrates the work that she puts in daily.
Whitson said freshmen health and wellness classes have approximately 35 students.
“Our teachers aren’t being as effective as they could be, because we have so many students in a classroom,” Whitson said. “Teachers are not being as productive, because of classroom space.”
McLaughlin said almost 20 years ago classroom sizes were almost the same. From her experience working there, Whitson said that wasn’t the case, but Whitson said they’ll agree to disagree.
Mayor Carlo DeMaria asked if they should send the matter to subcommittee.
“When I went to EHS, we had two teachers in a health class,” DeMaria said. “Do they do co-teaching?
Since there appears to be an uptick of reported bullying, the mayor asked to place the matter in subcommittee, where a lot of questions can be asked in a smaller group. The question was asked if subcommittees were televised. School Committee Chairman Michael Mangan said they’re recorded and rebroadcast on the city’s cable channel.
Whitson said she wasn’t implying her teachers aren’t well trained, competent or effectively teaching, but that they’d do better in a smaller setting.
McLaughlin made the motion, seconded by Mayor DeMaria to first send to the Council Committee as a Whole in executive session.
“There’s a lot of complex issues,” DeMaria said. “It’s not just an Everett issue.”