Are DC Public School Students in Danger?

Being a kid can be tough, and a recent survey of middle- and high-school students in Washington, DC, revealed alarming statistics about just how tough it is. From thoughts of suicide to joining gangs, survey results tell a story that can be emotionally hard to read. But not only does it need to be read, the story needs to be addressed...and corrected.

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Bad Signs

You'll see a lot of percent signs when you look at the results of the 2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); unfortunately for DC students, many of these percentages are reflective of more bad news than good.

So what are surveyed students saying?

That many of them are having feelings of being unsafe (18.4% of sixth graders), fears of being beaten up (13.9 % of middle school students), having thoughts of or have attempted suicide (about 10% of eighth graders and 12.5% of 12th-grade students), having sexual intercourse (28.2% of eighth graders), drinking alcohol (14.2% of middle schoolers have had at least 'one sip' in the past month) and joining gangs (15% of all middle school students).

While students in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were surveyed, the numbers seem to be most dire in DC. And they didn't stop only with emotional or social issues: academically, more than half of 9th-grade students drop out of DC high schools, and that percentage rises to a staggering 80% by 10th grade!

'Many Changes...Many Challenges'

Kaya Henderson, chancellor of DC Public Schools, told The Washington Times in September that schools needed to be more 'responsive' to students' needs, and 'not just the academic ones.' She added that 'students in these grades are undergoing so many changes and are facing many challenges.'

Ms. Henderson noted that resources needed to be made available at all schools. Currently, resources for support are more readily available at larger schools, leaving smaller institutions with far less to offer.

In addition, the chancellor noted that academics in middle school need to be improved to help reverse the current high school dropout figures. She is presently considering a program that would help boost the literacy rate of students before they reach ninth grade.

A 'Cry for Help'?

Some school officials noted that students themselves filled out the surveys and they believe that the statistics might be more reflective of the despair some students feel rather than actions they might have taken. Some point to the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook that expose students to far more than the generations before them.

Ms. Henderson told the Huffington Post in October that the survey results were 'very alarming' and added, 'I think it is a generalized cry for help.' But is this a cry that will be heeded? Or will the next CDC survey result in even more sobering news?

Kwame R. Brown, chairman of the DC Council's Committee of the Whole, which is responsible for addressing the District's financial, legislative and public education matters, acknowledged the urgency that DC schools need to have in addressing these issues. In September, he told The Washington Times: 'Our students can't wait any longer.'

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