PARIS — Slightly more than 46 percent of SAD 17 high school students and 8.5 percent of middle school students who answered a statewide youth survey questionnaire say they have had sexual intercourse.
And local health officials say the corresponding high sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and pregnancy rates show the students are not getting the information they need as sexually active young people.
“This is very concerning to us. We do have a high teen pregnancy rate,” Jen Cash, head of the Health and Physical Education Department, said.
Additionally, Cash said, the STD rate is “very high.”
The startling statistics were presented to the SAD 17 Board of Directors at its meeting on April 4.
A total of 434 Oxford Middle School students and 846 Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School students took the voluntary Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey (MIYHS) – which focused on health- and physical education-related questions – last year. Combined, more than 100 questions were asked of the students in each of the two surveys.
The survey was first administered in 2009 and is offered in February of odd-numbered years. The MIYHS is the result of collaboration between the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (Maine Center for Disease Control and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services) and the Maine Department of Education. Its purpose is identify health-related behaviors and attitudes of fifth- through 12th-graders by direct student survey.
Although local students mimicked students statewide reporting fewer of them are engaged in sexual relations than reported during the 2013 survey, the numbers locally were still higher than the statewide average.
According to the 2015 survey results, the number of high school students having sexual intercourse decreased from 48.2 in 2013 to the current 46.3 percent in the 2015 survey. The number is higher than the 38.7 statewide average.
Middle school students also decreased from 12.6 in 2013 to 8.5 in 2015, less than the current statewide average of 8.7.
Cash told the board that although the directors approved a K-12 health curriculum several years ago, “We can’t do it all. It’s physically impossible to cover the whole curriculum and state mandates.”
In other survey results:
- middle school students reported that 4.7 percent have smoked marijuana at least once during the last 30 days and 4.4 have had at least one drink in the last 30 days. Both numbers are less than reported two years ago but higher than the state average.
- 32.8 percent of students reported their first time using marijuana was before the age of 11.
“We really need to do something,” Cash told the directors.
- On the high school level, 21.2 percent reported having at least one drink in the last 30 days , lower than the 2013 number and lower than the current state average.
- A total of 20.6 percent said they have smoked marijuana at least once in the past 30 days, lower than two years ago, but slightly higher than the state average.
Addressing these issues and others highlighted in the survey is tough, Cash said.
At the middle and high school level, the problem is limited time, Cash told the Advertiser Democrat.
“We have a great curriculum, however, we do not have the time to cover things or we cut some units short in order to teach others,” she said. “There is just no way to cover all of the material in the curriculum or in the Maine State Health Learning results in one semester, which is what is required by the state of Maine.”
Cash said her biggest concern is at the elementary level where they have physical education but no health classes, and particularly no drug education.
“Kids come in and say, ‘My dad was arrested for heroin last night.’ The teachers don’t have updated resources [to deal with it]. It’s not fair to the teachers,” Cash said to the directors at their meeting.
Cash told the Advertiser Democrat that although there is an approved kindergarten through grade 12 health curriculum, elementary teachers receive no professional development in it.
“It’s time for our elementary teachers to have some professional development in the area of health because so many things have changed over the years and we don’t use our workshop days for health education at the elementary level,” Cash said.
Cash said it is difficult to address the high numbers that school officials are seeing in some of the categories.
“I wish I had the answer to addressing the high numbers. It’s a hard question to answer. I personally feel that if we could add additional health teachers at the middle school and high school we could address more of these contents areas, we could discuss them in more detail rather then just skimming some of the content or not covering it at all,” Cash told the Advertiser Democrat.
Professional development is key.
“We can better educated our students if we are all better prepared to deal with those things and understand them,” she said.
Additional to adding staff at the middle and high schools, Cash said building relationships between students and teachers is very important.
“If a kid feels connected to the school or a certain teacher, they are more likely to reach out to them when they have questions or concerns, they have that go to person. Not all kids feel comfortable asking certain things to their parents. I think that’s natural for teenagers, but having an outside person can make all the difference,” Cash said.