The Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) results from 2017 give insights into the attitudes and behaviors of Berks County youth on issues such as bullying, gambling, depression and drug, alcohol and tobacco use. The survey is issued statewide in the fall of odd-numbered years to any school that opts to participate.
PAYS data provides critical information about students’ perspectives of their school environment, as well as knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward alcohol, tobacco, drugs, violence, depression and other problem behaviors.
The data can be used to identify strategies for supporting youth, and to gauge the effectiveness of current prevention and intervention efforts.
In Berks County, eight school districts and one charter school participated, administering the survey to students in 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades, yielding a total of nearly 8,000 valid surveys. That, however, represents less than half of the 18 public school districts in the county.
Participating schools included: Antietam School District, Boyertown Area School District, Brandywine Heights Area School District, Conrad Weiser Area School District, Exeter Township School District, Governor Mifflin School District, I-LEAD Charter School, Kutztown Area School District, and Reading School District.
Council on Chemical Abuse Prevention Program Manager Jaclyn Steed said it is important for school districts to participate in the PAYS survey.
“The Pennsylvania Youth Survey data is a key piece for prevention planning in Berks County. It helps establish priorities and target audiences for current and future programs,” she said.
What’s more, PAYS data is mandatory for the Berks County Needs Assessment, which is required to secure state funding for prevention services. Reading School District, for example, received three years of funding for Project Towards No Drug Abuse as a result of PAYS data. The district also received six years of funding, as well as teacher trainings and curriculum materials for Botvin Life Skills, an evidence-based substance abuse and violence prevention program.
The 2017 PAYS questionnaire asked students about bullying, school safety, gambling, depression and, the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Overall, 27.4% of students in Berks County indicated experiencing bullying in the past 12 months (compared to 28.2% of students at the state level).
The survey asked questions about lifetime use of drugs and alcohol. In Berks County, 44.5% of students reported having used alcohol at some point in their lives and 19.2% had used marijuana, compared to, respectively, 43.3% and 17.7% at the state level.
PAYS also asked questions about mental health and suicide risk. In Berks County, 41.5% of students reported they felt sad or depressed most days in the past 12 months. Overall, 16.9% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide, compared to 16.5% of students at the state level.
“This information allows decision makers to direct prevention resources to areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact,” said Jaclyn Steed.
The survey results, which compare Berks County youth to those statewide and also provide comparisons by year, are available online on the PA Commission of Crime and Delinquency website.