PAYS data analysis continues
Communities That Care (CTC) continued its in-depth look at the 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) data during the Sept. 21 meeting. This allows the group, which is made up of school district and law enforcement personnel as well as a variety of community members, to identify potential risk factors for youths. They discuss different preventive measures and methods of positively affecting the lives of the students.
The survey was taken by sixth- and eighth-grade students, as well as sophomores and seniors at the high school. It is taken every two years.
Denise Continenza, CTC coordinator, presented a few more risk and preventive factors for the group to discuss. According to the PAYS data, many students felt a low attachment to their neighborhood or community. It was mentioned an increase in graffiti was noted in the township, and that could be an indicator of low community attachment.
Whitehall Township Mayor Michael Harakal Jr. mentioned he is working with other township officials to utilize the township’s parks to a fuller extent. He wants to reach out to students on evenings and during the summer to keep them connected with their community and to allow more interaction with the neighborhood. He emphasized he wants more options for these youths, not just sports.
It was also noted in the PAYS data that there is a perceived favorable attitude toward anti-social behavior from parents. This has been a continued focus for CTC. The group regularly talks about the dangers of social hosting and works to educate not only the students, but also their parents, about the risks. It was reported in the survey that while binge drinking for high school students has decreased, the primary source of alcohol for these students is their parents. This could be from social hosting or simply an unmonitored alcohol supply. There was a question among CTC members whether this may stem from more permissive households or simply less supervised environments.
Continenza was happy to report the survey showed there was a low risk of gang involvement across all grade levels tested. It was confirmed from some other members that gang involvement is not a prevalent problem in the schools. There was also a low number for the perceived availability of handguns among students.
Officer Matthew Christman, school resource officer, gave a brief report about the number of juvenile arrests from the police department. According to Christman, there were only 44 juvenile arrests in 2017, and only 30 of them were Whitehall residents.
“There’s not a lot of juvenile crime in Whitehall,” he said.
The group will finish its PAYS discussion at the October meeting. Members will also take time to identify their priorities for the next year.
Christopher Schiffert, assistant superintendent of Whitehall-Coplay School District, reported on the large-scale active violence drill that took place at the high school just before the start of the academic year. This was a drill for the teachers to understand how to better respond and react in an emergency situation. This drill was coordinated with various emergency personnel and law enforcement groups.
“This was a really good experience for us. We learned a lot,” he said.
According to Schiffert, safety is one of the school district’s primary focuses. He reported security upgrades were made at the schools.
“We want to empower our staff to know it’s OK to make decisions and not just wait for instructions. The more prepared, the better off we’ll be,” he said.
“This drill really opened the eyes of our teachers. We don’t want to be stuck in lockdown mode. We want options,” Christman added.
The next CTC meeting will be 8:30 a.m. Oct. 26 at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3355 MacArthur Road, Whitehall.