Vail Daily column: Taking the community’s pulse | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Taking the community’s pulse

Michelle Hartel Stecher
Valley Voices

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is the largest youth behavioral assessment in the state. It measures what teenagers see and feel, how they act, or react, and why. The survey has been administered by Eagle River Youth Coalition, in partnership with schools in Eagle County, for nearly a decade. Every single student, grades seven through 12, takes the 100-plus question survey. The raw data is analyzed by Confluence Research and Training LLC.

The survey takes a pulse on various aspects of a young person's life, including substance use, mental health, academics, future aspirations, violence and nutrition. Some results are positive (marijuana use is generally declining), others disturbing (almost 50 percent of middle school students have been bullied) and some thought-provoking (many kids are involved in after-school activities).

The most recent survey occurred in November 2015. In 2017, youth will once again be asked the series of questions so the community can stay current on what is going on in the minds of young people.

The 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey dissemination had teen input, to help set some early goals to continue to make positive changes and an open dialogue.

Parents and community leaders are focused on substance abuse: It can be quantifiably tracked. However, 10 years ago with the first survey, technology was a blip on the proverbial radar. Today's teens, and adults, are constantly on their phones. It's addictive, yet many of the problems associated with 24/7 technology use haven't been tracked. Adam Clouatre, a Red Canyon High School student participant, said, "Social media has become a constant 'scroll' — people don't even pay attention to the content."

Bullying: and more kids are feeling bullied. Why is this, and how can we fix it? Hand in hand with bullying are feelings of depression and suicidal ideation. It's hard to know the difference between "normal" teenage angst and true depression, and where can kids go, who can they talk to? (We have some excellent resources in Mind Springs Health, Samaritan Counseling Center and private practitioners, yet access barriers exist.)

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When young people are busy and engaged, they feel more connected, which correlates to less of an interest in abusing drugs and alcohol. There are hundreds of clubs, but do kids know about them, and do they match interests? Perception is reality. If kids think there is nothing to do, then there is nothing to do.

As with so many topics, equity can be hard to track but it feels like disparities exist. Franklin Reilly, a senior at Battle Mountain High School, a member of the Youth Leaders Council and youth coalition board member, said barriers do exist within the school walls. Ruby Black, a 2016 Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy graduate, Clouatre, Caroline Dewell, a freshman at Eagle Valley High School, and Karely Duran, a recent Battle Mountain graduate and current Colorado Mountain College undergraduate, rounded out the youth panel. All agreed there is a need for more conversation about how kids can have greater empathy for each other.

Participants and youth discussed protective factors, which are strengths that help support success such as parental support and extracurricular activities. A local Communities That Care project hosted by the coalition will be taking a more comprehensive approach to boosting protective factors over the next five years.

Eagle River Youth Coalition is grateful for the following organizations' support: Eagle County Schools, Vail Mountain School, Vail Christian High School, The Vail Academy, St. Clare of Assisi Catholic School, Stone Creek Charter School, United Way of Eagle River Valley, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, University of Colorado, Denver, Eagle County Government as well as the towns of Gypsum, Eagle, Avon and Vail.

Eagle River Youth Coalition is committed to supporting youth in the community; this means working to reduce risk behaviors and promote protective factors, providing seminars, classes and learning opportunities for children and adults, and maintaining an open dialogue. We hear the worries, now we work together to help address the problems. To learn more and see survey results, visit EagleYouth.org.

Michelle Hartel Stecher is the executive director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition, a nonprofit with a focus on keeping youth's voices heard throughout the community.