Survey: Public schools are unsafe, teachers are unprepared
Published: September 17, 2012
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ST. CROIX - The results are revealing.
The St. Croix Foundation Youth Advisory Council recently released findings from its survey of St. Croix high school and middle school students, covering responses to 44 questions on issues related to education and motivation.
The survey was developed by the local teens who comprise the Youth Advisory Council.
Among the results:
- Only 41 percent of public high school students responding reported that they felt safe at school, compared with 80 percent of private high school students.
- Only 42 percent of public high school students, 56 percent of private high school students and 25 percent of middle school students responded that most of their teachers came prepared for class.
- Students reported that they or their families, more so than teachers, provided the motivation for them to get their education.
Those results and others from the survey administered to more than 900 public and private school students on the island may shed some light on how St. Croix's young people perceive various aspects of their lives, including their school environment and safety, future academic plans and personal motivators.
"We want to use it as a tool to bridge a misconception of the experiences of the youth - and to invite a conversation between the youth and the adults in our community, and especially those making decisions that impact the youth experience," said Leslie Hamdorf, Youth Advisory Council team leader for the St. Croix Foundation.
Students participating in the survey attended St. Croix Educational Complex, Central High School, John H. Woodson Junior High School, Elena Christian Junior High School, St. Mary's Catholic School, Arthur Richards Junior High, Freewill Baptist, Country Day School and Good Hope School.
The St. Croix Foundation's Youth Advisory Council has been around since 2009. It was formed in memory of Matt Miller, a 21-year-old who moved to the island in 2004 to live with his father.
Miller stopped in the St. Croix Foundation office one day to talk about volunteer opportunities aimed at helping young people, and shortly after that, he died in a car crash. Hamdorf described him as a "young philanthropist."
The family gathered money to create the Matt Miller Fund at the foundation, which funds the Youth Advisory Council, Hamdorf said.
The council is a "youth philanthropy group," founded with the goals of engaging young people and teaching them about the importance of philanthropy and charitable giving and civic responsibility, according to the press release about survey findings.
As one of the council's first projects, members completed a similar survey among a small number of their peers by conducting interviews, Hamdorf said.
Since then, council members have refined the survey questions and administered the refined survey to a much larger group.
Some of the same issues that local youth are facing arose in both surveys, Hamdorf said.
Although the statistical validity of the latest survey is hard to judge, the sampling size for this version was large, with more than 900 responses tallied. The surveys were, however, administered differently at different schools.
"I think the results are accurate," Hamdorf said. "I think they're extremely representative of the youth experience."
There were no surprises, she said.
The survey results are aimed at illuminating the needs, aspirations and challenges of young people in the community, according to the foundation.
Kemit Sweeney, who has been with the council since its inception, said the council wants to explore the findings with leaders in the community, including policy makers, "so we can have a more unified directed focus at issues the youth are facing, that are significant for the youth."
Sweeney said that to him, the most significant thing about the findings were the answers to questions about motivation.
Among public school students, 95 percent of middle school students reported that they were motivated to get their education - but that number dropped to 69 percent among public high school students. Among private high school students, the percentage was the same as among public middle school students, at 95 percent.
In addition, among public school students, 89 percent of middle school students said that school was valuable to them, but that number dropped dramatically to 59 percent among high school students. The result for private high school students was again similar to the response from public middle school students, at 93 percent.
Hamdorf said that she found significance in how engaged middle school students are.
"I think the biggest finding for us was that we have the attention of the youth, especially at the middle school level. They're interested and motivated to get their education, and feel like they're getting family support," she said. As the students get older, there seems to be a disconnect between what they need and what they are receiving, she said.
"I think it impedes their experience with their high school education," she said.
For more information about the survey, contact the St. Croix Foundation at 773-9898 or go to its website at stxfoundation.org. For information about the council, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
- Contact reporter Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email email@example.com.