Region 16 to conduct developmental assets study

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Reg-16-OfficeREGION 16 — The Region 16 school district is taking a closer look at the assets and risks for youth in the community.

The region, which covers Beacon Falls and Prospect, will hire the Search Institute for $4,500 to perform a developmental assets study for students in grades seventh through 12.

The towns of Prospect and Beacon Falls paid $2,000 each to fund the study, and the remaining $500 will be paid by the school district.

According to the Search Institute’s website, the developmental assets are 40 common sense, positive experiences and qualities that help influence choices young people make and help them become caring, responsible, successful adults.

The region will be working with the Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council to help administer a survey to students on their behaviors. The survey, which is the first part of the developmental assets study, is expected to be given to students during school in April or May.

Jennifer DeWitt, executive director of CNVRAC, feels that the Search Institute’s methods help communities see what behaviors youth are engaged in both positive and risky.

“When we see what is not going well we also want to know is going well,” DeWitt said.

Region 16 Board of Education member Wendy Oliveira, who also sits on the Region 16 Prevention Task Force, said the study will have benefits to both towns as well as the school district.

“The data it collects greatly supports programming in the region and in both communities,” Oliveira said. “It also allows us to see how the children are doing.”

This is not the first time this type of survey will be conducted in Region 16, DeWitt said. In 2010, eighth-graders and sophomores took part in a study.

However, DeWitt felt the previous study was too limited to give the region the information it needed. While the study did show sophomores engage in more risky behavior than eighth-graders, it didn’t show the transition.

“When we only measure in a couple grades you don’t see the point of transition. Does it change in ninth grade or tenth grade,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt said that having a broader sample will give the community a better idea of where prevention measures need to happen.

“The ideal data sample size is all young people in seventh through 12th grade. Then you’ll have a picture of what’s going on in lives in young people in your community,” DeWitt said.

In an email to the officials in Prospect and Beacon Falls, DeWitt wrote this study can help Region 16 become preventative rather than reactive.

“Knowledge is power, and an informed community is a community on the cutting edge of prevention. When we rely on consequence data — those data sources that only become available as a result of suspension, arrest, or worse, tragedy — we become a reactive community that cannot act to prevent incidents and save lives until ‘someone hears the tree fall’ to speak philosophically,” DeWitt wrote.

DeWitt said in addition to helping provide an idea of ways to help youth and what risks are facing them, the study helps dispel two myths.

The first is that this type of behavior is happening only in other communities. DeWitt said once a community has the data, it can see exactly what is happening and help either change or encourage certain types of behavior.

The second is the “everybody else is doing it” myth. DeWitt said the data can show that not all of the youth are engaging in drug use or alcohol.

This means that the community can run a “positive norms” campaign rather than a negative “don’t do drugs” ad, DeWitt said.

“Positive norms campaigns are often implemented as a result of this fact finding, that highlights for many of our young people that most kids make good choices and engage in positive behaviors. This is important when kids feel vulnerable and isolated in their decisions not to go along with the crowd,” DeWitt said.

Once the data is collected and assessed, it will come back as a roughly 100-page report. The report will be open to the public. However, before it is given to the general public, the report is presented to the student body to draw their own conclusions, DeWitt explained.

“We ask them to steer us and point us in the right direction that will help in their community, to come up with preliminary brainstorming about what they would like to see change,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt added the report will be useful for all parts of the community, including town planning, school planning and law enforcement.

“Every section of the community benefits from having this data,” DeWitt said. “If something is done to address an area they can do subsequent data collection to see if it had an impact and moved the needle.”

Oliveira said that once it had been completed everyone involved would see the reward of such a thorough study.

“I believe it benefits both the community and students equally,” Oliveira said. “It lets us decide what services to provide for our children, and it lets our communities do the same thing.”