Region 16 survey discovers teens want to be heard

BEACON FALLS — Building self-esteem. Encouraging parents to talk to their children. Improving student relationships with the community.

These key steps and more came out of a survey taken of eighth- and 10th-graders in Region 16 last year.

Results say youth are positive about their future, but teens want to be valued more in the community and improve their communication with parents.

Emma Sardinskas, an eighth-grader at Long River Middle School in Prospect, said the district could use the survey results to improve relations between youth and adults.

For example, 71 percent of youth believe family life provides high levels of love and support, but only 28 percent feel they have a positive communication with parents. Both could be worked on together for improvement, or meet in the middle, Sardinskas said.

She was among adult and teen speakers who released the results of the survey on student behaviors and attitudes May 10 at Woodland Regional High School. School officials plan to review the numbers over the summer to see how to use them in the schools, and students who participated in a youth retreat as part of the survey outlined steps to improve three key areas of concern — how a community values youth, positive family communication and self-esteem.

In August 2010, 192 eighth-graders and 175 10th-graders completed a youth survey called “Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors.” It was developed by Search Institute, and sponsored by the district along with the Region 16 Prevention Task Force, the Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council and the Beacon Falls Pharmacy.

It asks questions to find out how youth are experiencing 40 developmental assets, or basic building blocks of human behavior. The survey encompasses “external assets” such as family support and “internal assets” such as self-esteem.

According to the survey’s executive summary, youth across the country experience far too few of these assets. The more they have, the fewer risk-taking behaviors they will engage in, such as drug use, fighting in groups or driving while drinking, it states.

At the youth retreat, students set goals to improve the three key areas of concern. The survey says 22 percent of youth perceive that adults in the community value youth; 28 percent of youth feel they don’t have positive communication with parents; and 44 percent have high self-esteem.

Students mapped out ways to tackle each one. They said they want community values youth to increase by 10 percent, to improve positive family communication through activities such as family vacations or eating together and to increase self-esteem by 21 percent.

Region 16, which serves Beacon Falls and Prospect, is the fourth school system to finish the survey, said Jennifer L. DeWitt, executive director of the Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council, which covers a 12-town area.

The other three are Waterbury, Region 15 (Middlebury and Southbury) and Region 14 (Bethlehem and Woodbury).

One of the priorities in Region 16 and other school districts that she hears loud and clear is that youth feel a strong need for a school and community to place a high value on them, she said.

A lot of times youth are hopeful for futures regardless of circumstances, but they don’t always feel empowered or have the keys to take matters into their own hands, she said.

“They really still feel adults have the say, and adults don’t listen to kids,” DeWitt said.

One step to address the community values youth element is to hold a youth-community forum, she said, and one elected official has said she is up to the task. First Selectman Susan Ann Cable said Thursday that she will host a town meeting for teens and the community in September.

Last week’s event at Woodland drew slightly more than 30 people, DeWitt said. She said she would hope follow-up happens, and students were clear that they want this done again in two to three years to see if there is any change.

Superintendent James C. Agostine said the numbers will be reviewed during an administrators’ retreat to see how the weaknesses can be improved and build that into planning over the years.

He said the district values the results, and the survey won’t just end up on the shelf.

Sardinskas, who also participated in the retreat, said not many people came out last week, and that kind of illustrates the results.

“If we could get something like that again and get more people to come, I think it would improve things greatly,” she said. “I would hope the few people that did come and hear us talk spread it on to people they know.”

Juniors Jamie Norton and Pat O’Dell attended the retreat and participated in the presentation. They both expressed hopes to see the results improve, and to see the community improve as the years go on.

Norton focused on parent communication, while O’Dell focused on self-esteem.

She said children don’t like to talk to parents, and parents are working a lot.

But parents need to be more interested in what their children are doing and make time for them, Norton said.

O’Dell said one step students suggested to improve self-esteem was hosting Teen Days, such as a gathering at a park with barbecue and games. The two said when teens have fun, they feel better about themselves.