By Tracy F. Seelye, Express editor
Enrollment is down historically from where it used to be, but leveling off, Superintendent of Schools Jeffrey Szymaniak reported to the School Committee on Wednesday, Nov. 17.
“That’s a national trend [seen] in the commonwealth, except we seem to be leveling off,” he said. “Will probably never get to that 200-plus kids [at Whitman Middle] we used to have in eighth grade. It’s not going to happen.”
Hanson middle school enrollment has also taken a dip, with grades forecast to number below 150 in the future.
Kindergarten enrollment trends are consistent with national trends, with the number of eighth-graders leaving for vocational high school programs also showing consistency.
“We can have some good information moving forward when we start looking at a five-year plan for budgets, based on enrollments,” he said.
Home-schooling has also made an impact, with 76 students learning at home this year, up from the pre-pandemic 33 students. There were 95 students home-schooling during last year’s lockdown.
“We did take a hit,” Szymaniak said. “I do think some students have enjoyed home schooling, or the curricula that their parents have purchased for them. I’m hoping to bring them back at some point, but I don’t know.”
There are students coming back to the district from home-schooling, already, he said.
In the meantime, there is “tremendous growth” in English language learning students, which leads to an increase in costs for student support services, such as translation online services. There are 106 English language learning students and 126 families that do not speak English.
Whitman-Hanson WILL reviewed the annual student drug surveys with the committee, outlining the challenge that alternative cigarettes – particularly vapes pose for the district.
“These are our challenge right now,” Szymaniak said.
Szymaniak said the district is talking about developing an anti-vaping curriculum for the district in cooperation with W-H WILL and school resource officers in both towns, as well as alternative consequences/learning for students caught vaping at school.
Gabrielle Peruccio of the Brockton Area Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative and High Point Treatment Center’s prevention services team, briefed the committee on the annual state and federally grant-funded survey’s findings. About 1,100 students in grades six through 12 completed the survey last school year.
Few middle schoolers said they used alcohol, cigarettes e-cigarettes or marijuana or prescription drugs at least once over the past 30 days with seventh and eight-graders having a higher percentage of vaping use among the few students who said they tried any of the substances listed. In the high school, alcohol was the most reported substance used by juniors (14 percent) and seniors (27 percent). Reported use of vaping and marijuana also increased as the grade levels increased, Peruccio said.
“That’s a common trend we’ve been seeing,” she said. “That middle school level, when talking about prevention, and curriculum around these substances is key.”
Students were also asked about their perception of risk — how harmful do they view each of the substances mentioned in the survey. Middle school students showed a view of moderate to great risk, but the perception of risk for marijuana decreases as students reach higher grades, especially since the legalization of marijuana.
Students’ views of their parents’ risk perception of the substances showed most in the middle school grades saying their parents thought it was wrong or very wrong, fluctuating a little at the high school level.
However, at least 90 percent of students in all grades said their parents would feel any substance use was wrong or very wrong.
Peer disapproval, was a bit less stringent at all grade levels, especially at the high school.
“A while back our focus was on prescription drugs and opioids, because that’s what our students were really struggling with,” Peruccio said. “Now we’re seeing marijuana, THC, vaping and alcohol being those top substances that we’re facing.”
The School Committee voted to continuing to allow W-H WILL to share the data with the community and survey students again this year.
“When we talk about school and our students, while our elementary kids are not surveyed … those students might go home to a home that has parents who are addicted,” School Committee member Dawn Byers said. “We need to support students in our school who may struggle with this with other family members. … It’s a community-wide issue.”
She lauded Szymaniak for thinking about a curriculum.