BEDFORD — Which of the following describes you? Female, male, transgender, male to female; transgender, female to male; transgender, do not identify as exclusively male or female; not sure? Or would you say you are only straight/heterosexual, mostly straight heterosexual, bisexual, mostly lesbian/gay, only lesbian/gay? These are some of the 160 questions that were posed to Ross A. Lurgio Middle School students recently.
The Profiles of Student Life: Attitudes and Behaviors survey also included questions about illegal drug and prescription medicine abuse, sniffing glue or breathing contents of an aerosol can, alcohol and cigarette use, which family members they live with and whether they eat dinner together, what grades are earned at school, depression and thoughts of suicide, sexual activity and use of birth control, weapon and knife use, participation in extracurricular activities, binge eating, friendships and if they have an adult in whom they can confide.
The 160-question survey posed to Bedford middle-schoolers during the week of March 31, has been given every four years, but this is the first time a shorter, 58-question survey was given to grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10, said Bedford School Board Chairman Terry Wolf.
"The longer survey has historically been given to middle schoolers for 16 years," said Wolf.
The shorter version — the Developmental Assets profile — asked students such questions as if they say no to things that could hurt them, their attitudes about school, homework and learning, solving conflicts without hurting someone, feeling safe at home and at school, telling the truth, and if they have parents who listen.
Before students were asked to complete the surveys, letters to parents were posted on the principals' note section of school web pages, said Wolf, and parents in the elementary schools were asked to give their signed permission. She said parents with elementary and middle school students may only have seen one letter, although separate letters went to all grades involved. Some parents may consider the questions too much for students, and the district gave them the option to opt out of the survey.
The school district has received some complaints about the surveys, mostly from three parents who voiced their concerns at the April 7 School Board meeting, said Wolf.
"It's hard to gauge how many are upset," she said.
While the surveys may have caused some controversy, Wolf said the results help the district and the Coalition for Bedford Youth, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy behaviors, identify issues challenging Bedford students.
The results of past surveys are posted on the organization's website, cbynh.org, and are available for public view. The 2010 results show an increase in drug and alcohol use, carrying a weapon, skipping school, and sexual activity in middle-schoolers.
In addition to providing insight into trends, the results have been used to design the Stand By Me program attended annually by seventh-graders, said Wolf.
"Many parents feel our kids are safer in Bedford and compared to some communities they are, but our students are not immune to the real world," said Wolf. "There's a lot of opportunity for the district. I'll be interested to see what the results show."