Survey highlights assets lacking

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NAUGATUCK — Safety, self-esteem and restraint. Those are the top three issues facing students in Naugatuck, according to a developmental assets survey.

An “Attitudes and Behaviors” survey was given to students in grades seven through 12 during the 2013-14 school year. The survey, which was approved by the board and administered by the Central Naugatuck Valley Regional Action Council, consisted of 160 questions on a variety of topics, including sex, safety, and drug and alcohol use.

Naugatuck Youth Services Director Kristen Mabrouk, along with three student ambassadors, discussed the results of the survey with the Board of Education this month.

The results were broken into 40 developmental assets defined by the Search Institute, a
Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that works to “advance the health of children, youth, families, and communities.”

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.

Mabrouk and student ambassadors in grades seven through 12 reviewed the results of the survey and identified the top 10 assets that they felt the district should address. Safety, self-esteem and restraint topped the list.

Only 48 percent of students surveyed said they felt safe in their homes, at school, and in their neighborhoods. The national average is 52 percent.

“Improving almost any of these assets will also help us keep that number one priority, safety, at the forefront. With fights and bullying in school, the recent accident at Linden Park, and recent teen harassment incidents in the community that you may have read about in the news, we need to make sure this is always number one,” Naugatuck High School senior and student ambassador Michael Akra said.

Naugatuck High School freshman and student ambassador Ellis Sadler said many of his peers do feel safe in Naugatuck schools, but don’t feel like they have an adult they can talk to if something happens.

“I fell that, as a district and school, we must build some type of trust between students and teachers,” Sadler said.

Sadler said the students want to know that teachers are not just there to help them with education, but can be there to help with emotional problems, as well.

Naugatuck High junior and student ambassador Kennedy Burns said she has talked with the board’s Director of Information Technology, Alan Merly, about the possibility of implementing a feature on the website to alert school officials of a potential safety issues, like harassment and bullying.

“I feel like kids don’t feel safe to go in school to talk to somebody about it because they feel like if they get caught there’s going to be a lot of negative repercussions, because kids are cruel,” Burns said.

If students feel there is a safer way to communicate concerns, Burns said, the district’s overall sense of safety would go up.

Of the students surveyed 47 percent said they had a high level of self-esteem. The national average is 52 percent.

Mabrouk said raising self-esteem is one of the main focuses of Naugatuck Youth Services. She said the two groups that struggle the most with self-esteem issues are girls in middle school and boys in their junior and senior year of high school.

“The older boys were saying they had a hard time with the transition into high school. They said they didn’t realize freshman year was so important,” Mabrouk said.

A new program has been started to combat the self-esteem issues of the older boys.

Matt Dowling, a 2013 Naugatuck High School graduate and an intern at Naugatuck Youth Services, began a project that paired high school junior and senior mentors with boys in eighth grade. The group works on ideas such as conflict resolution and overcoming obstacles, Mabrouk said.

“That program hits so many of the assets. The positive peer influences, the caring school climate,” Mabrouk said.

When it came to restraint, only 38 percent of students surveyed said they believe it is important not to use drugs or alcohol or be sexually active while a teenager. The national average is 47 percent.

“The hours of 3 to 5 p.m. are when kids are likely to try drugs for first time. We think there needs to be a safe place to hang out,” Mabrouk said.

To help keep students away from negative influences Naugatuck Youth Services has a program modeled after a coffee house where students can go to hang out.

Board of Education Chairman David Heller recommended the board hold a special meeting with the youth ambassadors to discuss the survey and come up with a plan about how to address the issues.