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Editorial: Buffalo's at-risk students need a web of support

And on the subject of children at risk, a new survey of Buffalo school students reveals some disturbing trends, including an increase in the number of students harboring suicidal thoughts and in the number using drugs.

The trends, revealed in a new survey of students, suggest that Buffalo’s students need attention from a network of sources, some of which are already in place. But with suicidal thoughts increasing since the previous survey, it’s clear that more needs to be done.

The survey of middle and high school students was developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has been administered in Buffalo biennially since 2011. Its goal is to monitor risky health behaviors.

In Buffalo, the survey also includes questions added by the school district about traumatic experiences, living situations and the causes for absences.

Among its findings are while sexual activity is declining among students, the percentage who do not use birth control continues to rise. That’s a problem with consequences that can last for generations.

It also found the students are spending more time on computers and with video games, possibly at the expense of physical activity. And the percentage of middle school students who reported using steroids and prescription drugs illegally increased as did the share of high school students using drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

Regarding suicidal thoughts, the percentage of students seriously considering killing themselves reached its highest point since 2011, though the rate was still lower than across New York State. It’s an alarm bell, nonetheless.

There was some good news. Reports of asthma declined as did the percentage of students having sex at an early age or with multiple partners. Tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use declined and fewer students said they are texting while driving. Still, the problems are significant.

“Ninety percent of our kids have one or more challenges,” said Superintendent Kriner Cash, “and when they have multiple challenges we have to do something to at least try to mitigate that issue so they can be ready to learn.”

The district is getting assistance in that urgent task from Say Yes Buffalo, which is helping to place mental health clinics and social service case workers in each schools. But the need goes further.

Eric Rosser, associate superintendent for student support services, wants to see the school community develop a broad plan to support the district’s at-risk students. That’s the best approach: an interwoven network of care, rather than isolated silos that help only as they can.

It would also be valuable to assess whether the district’s unusually high number of students directed into special education is linked to these stresses. If so, both those students and the special ed program are being misused.

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