Franklin & Marshall College's Center for Opinion Research recently completed a survey of students in the School District of Lancaster.
The survey is intended to gauge student opinions about school safety, prevalence of drug use among students, and the effect of both upon academic performance.
Among other things, the survey finds that "Most students feel safe in school, but fewer middle school students felt safe in May 2008 than felt safe in November 2006. In fact, when it comes to safety perceptions, middle school students are the least likely to feel safe compared to elementary and high school students."
In spring 2008, 71% of a sample of 1,700 middle school students responded, "I feel safe at this school" compared to 82% in fall 2006.
There were also noticeable declines in the percentage of middle school students who rated the relationship between students and teachers positively. For example, in 2006, 53% of the middle school sample said that "Students get along well with teachers."By spring 2008, that number had dropped to 39%.
Changes at the elementary school and high school levels were less dramatic, although there was a small drop in the percentage of students at all levels who described their school as "clean."
The number of actual physical attacks at school, however, has not significantly changed in the past two years, according to the report. In spring 2008, 17% of middle school students and 14% of high school students said they had "been attacked and hit by someone, or beaten up, on school."
The survey summary goes on to note that "students who were attacked or assaulted had more unexcused absences, less frequent school attendance, and lower PSSA performance."
Alcohol and marijuana use among students has increased, according to the survey.
In fall 2006, 12% of middle school students reported having "had beer, wine, or hard liquor during the past 30 days." In spring 2008, the number was 19%.
For high school students, that percentage was 23% in 2006 and 34% in 2008.
In fall 2006, 6% of middle school students reported having "used marijuana during the past 30 days." In spring 2008, that number had risen to 10 %.
For high school students, 19% reported having used marijuana in 2008 as opposed to 10% in 2006.
The survey notes that students who reported having used both alcohol and marijuana had slightly lower attendance rates than those who had used neither and lower PSSA scores in math and reading.
The survey does not gauge the effect on alcohol use alone or marijuana use alone on these factors.
SDL Superintendent Pedro Rivera said he takes the findings very seriously. "This has to lend itself to changing what we're doing in the schools," he said.
He went on to note that the District is going to be implementing a bully education/awareness program at all middle schools later this school year.