Stressed out Palo Alto parents may lack the attention span to absorb "one more thing" –- the implications of an emotional wellness survey taken by more than 4,000 local students.
But many "character education" and sports programs that already exist in Palo Alto dovetail with the goals outlined in the survey report, known as the Developmental Assets Initiative, a group of Palo Alto PTA parents said Wednesday.
About 20 parents -- mostly mothers -- attempted to tease out the relevant findings in the massive trove of Palo Alto student opinion. Wednesday's meeting also attracted three members of the Board of Education.
The Developmental Assets Survey was taken last fall by nearly all of Palo Alto's high school students, as well as by nearly all fifth- and seventh-graders. Hundreds of pages of results –- including school-by-school numbers –- were released in March.
On the positive side, Palo Alto students "feel a high degree of family support and love" and most do not engage in risky behavior, said Micaela Presti, the PTA executive vice-president for health and safety.
On the downside, most students don't feel valued by the community and rate their schools poorly in the category of "caring climate."
The survey, created by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute and given to millions of students across the country, measures how many of 40 "developmental assets" –- such as family support or a caring neighborhood –- a student possesses.
Kids with 20 or more assets are viewed as "adequate" or "thriving," while kids with fewer than 20 are considered "vulnerable" or "at risk."
In Palo Alto as elsewhere, kids tend to lose assets as they move into the teen years.
The percentage of "adequate" or "thriving" students in Palo Alto declines from 83 percent among fifth-graders to 68 percent among seventh-graders to 53 percent among high school students.
"Our goal is for every child in Palo Alto to have more than 20 assets and for everyone to become an asset builder," Presti said.
"Asset building" can be as simple as knowing the names of kids who live on your block and greeting them as they ride by on their bicycles, she said.
The PTA, along with the school district, the City Council and variety of community groups, adopted the Developmental Assets model amid concerns about teen well-being following a student "suicide cluster" that began two years ago.
Presti noted that the Palo Alto data on suicide attempts, gleaned from the survey, mirrors national statistics on the percentage of teens who say they have attempted suicide.
"We're concerned about (suicide) as a community because we had a cluster, but our numbers are really no different than the national numbers -- that's just one thing to keep in mind," she said.
As results of the student survey filter out into the community, different schools and community groups are using them in different ways, Presti said.
Some campuses, including Palo Alto High School, JLS Middle School and Palo Verde Elementary School, have hosted meetings to analyze school-specific results with parents.
However, another mother noted, "If you ask most parents about the Developmental Assets, they have no idea what you're talking about."
Other parents said many existing school and youth sports programs, including the character education programs Steps to Respect and Six Seconds as well as the Positive Coaching Alliance, are perfectly aligned with the goals of the Developmental Assets Initiative.
"We should articulate what we're already doing and frame it within the Developmental Assets," parent Sigrid Pinsky said.
"That will launch a conversation and make people feel great because there's so much under way already in our schools -- it just looks different at every school."