Stecher: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is coming soon to Eagle County schools (column) | VailDaily.com

Stecher: Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is coming soon to Eagle County schools (column)

Michelle Stecher
Valley Voices

Michelle Stecher

If you have a child in grades seven through 12, or know of a local student who falls into that age range, then chances are they are participating in the statewide Healthy Kids Colorado Survey this November.

This project is the largest local youth health and behavioral assessment in the state. Information is gathered on academics, future aspiration, mental health, substance use, recreation, nutrition, sexual health, violence and other topics.

The Eagle River Youth Coalition, in partnership with local middle and high schools and the University of Colorado Denver, administers the anonymous survey. More than 3,200 young people from 15 school campuses in our community will provide critical information, and the outcomes will provide vast benefits. Schools and local agencies will utilize the data to inform programming, results will inform local policy work, and the outcomes will tell a critical story of youth needs and assets.

Schools and nonprofits use Healthy Kids data to build a case for strategies, and more than $2 million annually is secured to benefit local programs and initiatives utilizing this information. Mindy Larson, dean of students at Vail Christian High School, said, "The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey data has helped our school identify needs and determine supports for students, such as guest speakers."

Beyond the numerous benefits the data provides to education and communitywide projects, the timing of this in-depth survey offers an excellent opportunity for parents and trusted adults to initiate a conversation with young people on a variety of topics.

With the recent passing of 1A and opportunities ahead for increased mental health support, suicide and depression have been "hot topics." If you have concerns about a young person — or anyone, for that matter — who may be struggling with mental health, suicide or addiction, then an honest conversation without judgment in a safe environment about your concern is the best approach.

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This is also an excellent opportunity to bring up any substance use or other behavioral concerns you might have. Talking about tough subjects brings relief; it does not encourage the behavior. A few ideas from Speak Now Colorado on speaking with your teen or preteen include:

• Start the conversation. If you're wondering whether it is too early to speak about an important topic, then remember that children are curious and will look to you for information.

• Establish yourself as a resource, so that young people know they can count on you.

• Listen. Establish a safe, trusting relationship and prove that you care.

• Establish clear rules. Establish expectations and enforce consequences. Young people typically appreciate accountability.

• Focus on the positive. Use facts, and focus on healthy alternatives.

"It may seem like every teenager makes bad decisions, but this survey also highlights important strengths," said Caroline Dewell, Eagle River Youth Coalition board member and Eagle Valley High School student.

Results from the local Healthy Kids Colorado Survey will become available this spring. While each school receives a report specific to its population, a communitywide report is developed and available publicaly to share key needs, trends and strengths facing youth. Visit eagleyouth.org in early spring for a peek at how our local young people are doing.

Michelle Stecher is the executive director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition.