Los Alamos High School RAPS Leadership Team member Jon Doorn addresses the community dialogue event audience Mar. 7 in Council Chambers at the Municipal Building. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
Los Alamos County Councilor Sara Scott, LAPD Cpl. Jay Eakins, center, and Sgt. Chris Ross listen to presentations by LAHS RAPS Leadership Team members. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
More than 50 adults members of the Los Alamos community attended a community dialogue event Mar. 7 hosted by the Los Alamos High School RAPS Leadership Team. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
RAPS Leadership Team members Zoe Butler, left, and Amber Gould chat with the Los Alamos Reporter during the Mar. 7 community dialogue event. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Members of the Los Alamos High School Resiliency Assessment Project for Students (RAPS) Leadership Team held a community dialogue event last week attended by more than 50 members of the community in Council Chambers at the Los Alamos Municipal Building.
Team members Jon Doorn, Zoe Butler, Vats Budzileni and Zoe Butler presented their interpretation of the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey for 2018 and outlined their findings for both strengths and concerns they had identified in the survey.
The YRRS report for Los Alamos County indicates that the survey was taken by 349 students – 194 girls and 155 boys – in grades 9-12. To reach the full report, click here: http://youthrisk.org/pdf/YRRS-2017-HS-countyreport-losalamos.pdf.
Strengths included that 83.3 percent of LAHS students say a teacher believes that they will be a success and that 88.2 percent of LAHS students say that a parent believes that they will be a success. Team members noted how important it is for students that a family member believe they will be a success and that on the flip side, if a student doesn’t have anyone in their family that thinks they will be a success, that can have really negative consequences.
Vats Budzileni opens the evening’s conversation at the LAHS RAPS Leadership Team’s community dialogue event. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
The team noted that only 1 percent of LAHS students have used injection drugs which they consider a very dangerous thing to be involved in and believe that that percentage being so low is a great reflection on the nature of their community.
One of the top concerns was that 24.5 percent of students hurt themselves on purpose without the intent to die by different sorts of cutting, burning and other methods. Team members said potential causes they have discussed include pressure at school or the need to ease pain, a call for help or a lack of self-confidence. As the team has been looking at the reasons why students decide to behave like this, they said they have also been looking at that might allow them to get out of that and be in a better place.
The team was very concerned that the survey showed 33.2 percent of LAHS students feel sad or hopeless for two or more weeks a month. They said this statistic is pretty stable and it’s something they really want to dig into and really figure out how to resolve. Some causes for student depression they noted were pressure from school, bullying, relationship challenges, family issues, lack of support and mental health issues.
With the survey indicating that 25.9 percent of students are sexually active, the team expressed concern throughout the evening about the lack of access to the state health nurse’s office across the street from the high school which they said is only open twice a month with not a lot of resources. They repeatedly mentioned the lack of services and information available for teens because of the clinic being unavailable.
The team mentioned that health classes at school teach about sexual behavior and condom usage for birth control but only during junior year. They said a lot of teens are sexually active when they are a freshman or a sophomore and they’re not really taught by their parents and peers how to protect themselves or take care of themselves. They offered a solution of making condoms available at the school nurse’s office or somewhere else at the school. The team noted that 35 percent of students used effective birth control such as a shot or IUD and that the pill is not considered effective because of possibility of forgetting to take it every day.
After meeting with attendees for small group discussion on several issues, member of the student team reported the findings of the groups. On the issue of self-harm without intent to die, participants believed there was a need for better access to mental health assistance – somewhere that students could go to speak their minds and have someone listen to them. That did not have to be a mental health institution but could be a counselor at school, a clinical counselor or a teacher. It was suggested to limit PowerSchool, perhaps only receiving a summary at the beginning or end of the week. Instead of just having sports that are time-consuming and competitive, non-competitive, recreational sports were suggested perhaps at the Los Alamos Teen Center with those activities being changed every couple of weeks. It was felt that if a teen was at home and had undesirable thoughts, they could participate in those activities to take their minds off their stress. Another suggestion was that school counselors be trained like clinical counselors so that they could help students more at school. This would mean that if they had something they needed to get off their chest they could see a counselor and maybe have a five minute slot or longer during lunch, during a class period or between periods.
With regard to improving sexual health, condom usage and birth control, it was felt that there is a need to teach kids, adults, parents and communities about sexual health, how to protect their bodies and how to take care of themselves. It was suggested that health classes in elementary schools which now don’t really talk about sexual health, condoms or sexually transmitted diseases should do so because team members said there are kids in the middle school who are already having sex. It was felt that this could help push back sexuality at that age or at least make it safer. Educating parents on how to teach their kids was also suggested and it was noted that parents need to teach kids to protect themselves. It was noted that consent needs to be taught possibly in health classes to both men and women and that kids, parents and the community in general needs information on better sex behavior.
Kristine Coblentz watches proudly as her Los Alamos High School as her LAHS RAPS Leadership team addresses the audience. Coblentz is the Healthy Schools Initiative Director for Los Alamos Public Schools. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
On how to help the large percentage of kids that felt sad or helpless, the need for more counseling services again emerged stressing the need for kids to be able to walk in to a counselor’s office and hopefully walk away feeling a sense of hope, a sense of perhaps not happiness right away, but knowing that they are going to be okay. One of the road blocks mentioned was the lack of counseling providers available for young people. The possibility of online counseling through a website that could be promoted by the high school and the walk-in clinic. The importance of advisors at school who lead students from their freshman year to their senior year, who know the classes a student is going to be taking, what kind of jobs the student is interested in and can help them with college readiness.
It was also noted that Los Alamos National Laboratory has different resources that could be used to teach the parents because the statistics on sadness, hopelessness and depression are not only related to the high school but the entire Los Alamos community. It was felt that parents would be better prepared to speak in their homes if they had more resources. The idea of having a community mental health fair on the lines of the existing health fair for the community.
Distracted driving in the community was also discussed and it was determined that the main solution was more education, not just for the students but education for parents in the community. It was suggested that education be provided not only on the consequences of distracted driving but also how to reduce the potential for distracted driving by writing manuals and guidelines as well as tips on how to make portable technology less distracting such as setting up Blue Tooth in cars or how to more effectively use voice commands on your phone. Students felt this could also be taught in health classes and drivers education classes. It was also suggested that unused electronic billboards in the community could be used to communicate the possible consequences of distracted driving.
Noting that since 2015, vaping use at the high school has increased by 78 percent the goal would be to reduce vaping and ultimately the smoking of cigarettes which is what it leads to. Participants noted that youth in general are very interested in being healthy so if was suggested to try and get them to see that it is very it’s unhealthy behavior. The course of action suggested was to give young people some brain-based addiction education starting in the upper elementary grades and going up through high school even to adults and parents. It was suggested that highlighting the issue with some announcements at the middle school and possibly a campaign week at the elementary level. It was also suggested that vaping be added to PE and health classes curriculum and that the message be delivered by the teachers because those are the adults around students most and that’s who they have a connection with. It was felt that coming in once a year or having an assembly is not nearly as effective as hearing from teachers who have built a rapport with students and can give them some facts.
Los Alamos Public Schools Healthy Schools Initiative Director Kristine Coblentz who is the facilitator for the RAPS team, said thanked the State Public Education Department for assisting with the YRRS and the schools for allowing the survey to be conducted.
“We have a lot of people and a network of support to thank,” she said. “These students have given so much of their time and been dedicated.
The RAPS team members told the Los Alamos Reporter following the event that they were excited by the large turnout of adults from so many sectors of the community. They noted that there were participants from Los Alamos Police and Fire Departments, school administrators, teachers and other district staff, school board members, representatives from the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, County Council, Los Alamos Teen Center and many more.
The team felt that many people in the community want to support youth and that showing up for a community dialogue really matters. Team members said they loved the variety of people that participated and that the amount of effort that was put in to bring forward ideas.
“We are happy that we were able to reach out. So many people actually had ideas. They didn’t come here to complain, they didn’t come to criticize. Everyone was trying to work towards the same goal which is ultimately make Los Alamos a better community for teens and families,” one team member said.