Friday, September 24, 2010

Bullying Puts New Mexican Students at Risk

Bullying is One of the Main Reasons Boys Get Suspended and End Up in CASA's Alternative Education Program

(Santa Fe) – Bullying in schools decreases with each grade level as students advance through middle school and high school, according to a 2009 survey of almost 46,000 New Mexico middle and high school students. About 35 percent of 6th graders reported being bullied compared to approximately 15 percent of 12th grade students.

The New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey, conducted every other year by the New Mexico Department of Health and the Public Education Department, collects data self-reported by students from most of the 89 school districts in New Mexico. The survey was completed by 22,249 high school students and 23,628 middle school students. This is the first year the survey included questions about bullying. The survey asks students about violence in school, substance use, mental health issues and other behaviors, including protective factors in their lives.

“Bullying puts young people at risk for making poor choices, so parents and school districts must work together to create safe school environments where students can thrive and not feel threatened,” said Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, MD. “The survey results also remind us how important it is for adults to have caring relationships with adolescents.”

High school students were less likely to be bullied if they had high levels of caring and supportive relationships with a teacher, a parent or other adults at school or home. High school students who were bullied on school property were more likely than other students to attempt suicide, be in a physical fight, drink alcohol or use cocaine. Middle school students who were bullied were more likely than other students to attempt suicide and be in a physical fight.

New Mexico’s 80 school-based health centers help address violence in schools with a unique health care model that includes comprehensive physical, behavioral and preventive health services provided to adolescents in their school. All students who come to a school-based health center fill out a questionnaire about health issues and risk behaviors, including questions about school safety, bullying and teen dating violence. School-based health center staff can intervene with school personnel when the student’s safety is being compromised and work with youth who are reported to be bullies to improve his or her skills in dealing with anger and aggression.

“School-based health centers are an excellent way to create a safe environment that encourages students to walk-in and address anything that is getting in the way of learning,” said Anna Nelson, behavioral health program manager for the Department of Health’s Office of School and Adolescent Health. “School-based health centers also provide low stigma access to behavioral health services because students can drop in at any time for any reason.”

In November 2006, the Public Education Department adopted a Bullying Prevention Rule that requires all public school districts, including charter schools, to adopt and implement an anti-bullying policy.

“Safety in New Mexico’s schools is one of the most important issues facing our communities. Safety is critical for fostering an environment that is conducive to learning and growing, and for building healthier relationships,” said Education Secretary Designate Susanna Murphy, PhD. “Providing an educational environment for all students, employees, volunteers, and families, free from harassment, intimidation, or bullying supports a total learning experience that promotes personal growth, healthy interpersonal relationships, wellness, and freedom from discrimination and abuse. Therefore, harassment, intimidation or bullying are forms of dangerous and disrespectful behavior that cannot be tolerated in New Mexico’s schools.”

Other findings from the survey about violence in schools include:
• More than 7 percent of high school students skipped school because they felt unsafe either at school or on the way to or from school.
• Fifteen percent of high school students were involved in a physical fight on school property, 19 percent of boys and nearly 11 percent of girls.
• More than 8 percent of high school students carried a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club on school property. Boys were two times more likely to carry a weapon on school property than girls (11 percent compared to 5 percent).
• Thirty-one percent of high school students had been offered, sold, or given illegal drugs on school property.
• Almost 10 percent of high school students used marijuana and 8.7 percent smoked cigarettes on school property in the past 30 days.

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