"The Results Are In" by Dean of Students Marcela Maldonado
Over the last few months, Nobles has engaged in a myriad of learning opportunities for and about our students, their choices and behaviors, the promise of good things to come, and our roles as educators in those efforts.
Frances Jensen, a former Nobles parent, neuroscientist, and author of the highly acclaimed The Teenage Brain, presented before the faculty in mid-February. Dr. Jensen offered a fascinating perspective on the science of brain growth, and why teenagers can be especially impulsive and not very good at responsible decision-making. She shared much scientific data, coupled with poignant anecdotes from her experience both as a scientist and a mother.
Dr. Jensen explained, for instance, why occasional binge drinking can actually kill brain cells in adolescents yet not to the same extent in the adult brain, or why you can suffer brain damage as a teen for the same blood alcohol level that may cause bad sedation in the adult. It would do Frances Jensen no justice for me to attempt to explain her copious findings in any detail or the intricacies of how the teenage brain operates, and so I urge you to pick up her book – it is an easy read and you’ll be happy you did.
What resonated even more for me than the information itself was Dr. Jensen’s assertion that giving adolescents the facts about what's going on with them is the most important thing you can do. Students today are data-driven, and would respond well to knowing that their behavior is, in large part, biologically based. Dr. Jensen noted that it is critical for teenagers to understand that “they're building their brains by what they do every day.” And so to provide them with scientifically based information about why they do the things they do, could be a game-changer.
What we learned from Frances Jensen anchors the work we have engaged in to help students successfully navigate through their teenage years. This includes presentations by Katie Koestner and her colleagues to Classes I, II and III earlier this year, and the upcoming program for Class IV right before spring break. As a leading expert on student safety and teen culture, Koestner and her team led students through interactive exercises related to sexual misconduct, cyber harassment, and healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. The legal consequences of these issues were discussed openly, as was the importance of making positive life decisions beginning now.
In the fall, I shared that Nobles was partnering with the Freedom from Chemical Dependency organization (FCD) that provides alcohol and drug prevention education. They administered a survey built to scientifically measure our present students’ actual attitudes and behaviors towards illegal substances, as well as their perceptions of the behaviors and attitudes of their peers. And the results are in…
The methodology used was impressive and the report is incredibly detailed and comprehensive. The most important thing to share is that a “culture of health” pervades our community: the vast majority of Nobles students hold positive beliefs, engage in responsible decision making, and exhibit healthy behaviors. Other key findings to highlight:
1. Nobles students grossly overestimate alcohol and marijuana use, and underestimate abstinence from these substances, on the part of their peers.
a. For example, 85% of 10th graders never drink alcohol. Yet only 3% of 10th graders perceive that their classmates never drink alcohol.
b. For example, 25% of 11th graders say they typically use marijuana 1-2 times a year or more. Yet, 87% of 11th graders believe their classmates typically use marijuana at this rate or more.
2. A small number of students are engaging in risky behavior yet drive the perception that “everyone does it.”
3. The impact of family involvement and awareness on these issues
a. 15% of Nobles students say that they have used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs at home WITH a parent or guardian knowing. For 11th and 12th graders, this figure rises to 21% and 30%, respectively.
b. 23% of Nobles students say that they have used alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs at home WITHOUT a parent or guardian knowing. For 11th and 12th graders, this figure rises to 36% and 46%, respectively.
There is much more information to cull over and disseminate to the larger school community, and we will continue to do so in a variety of ways. These findings will be shared with students during an assembly before spring break, led by the Peer Help Program (PHP). These results should serve as the catalyst for honest dialogue with students about their choices and responsibilities, a conversation that will be dynamic, data-driven, and peer-lead. FCD makes it clear that prevention is a climate not a program, and we have the facts on our side about what can be done. This is an opportunity we intend to take every advantage from.