Youth Focus
By Alvin W. Cohn, D.Crim.
President, National Juvenile Court Services Association

BULLIES - Federal researchers, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, analyzed the results of a survey of 15,686 students in grades six through 10 in public and private schools. Children who had bullied others or were bullied themselves were much more likely to engage in violent behavior, such as carrying a weapon, fighting, and being injured in a fight, they found. Bullies, however, were more likely than their victims to engage in this behavior. Of boys who admitted that they had bullied others at least once a week in school, 52.2 percent had carried a weapon the past month; 43.1 percent had carried a weapon in school; and 38.7 percent were in frequent fights. The percentages for those who were bullied were substantially less. For those who had never bullied others, their percentages were drastically lower. 

DISABILITIES AND PARAPROFESSIONALS - A shortage of qualified special education teachers and rising numbers of children with disabilities prompts America's public schools to use paraprofessionals increasingly to assist special education students. In some states, standards for paraprofessionals have been lax, and paraprofessionals are not adequately prepared to serve the students. "No Child Left Behind (the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the law which provides most of the federal K-12 funding in the US, addresses the qualifications and roles of paraprofessionals in public schools. Annually, it affects 12.5 million students in more than 90 percent of schools across the nation. Title I of the Act requires that paraprofessionals must:
* Complete at least two years of higher education study; or
* Obtain an associate or higher college degree; or
* Meet a rigorous standard of quality and demonstrate knowledge of and the ability to instruct in math, reading, and writing.

SCHOOLS AND EMERGENCY PLANS - Public schools will be eligible for $30 million in federal grants to prepare for terrorism and other emergencies. The money will come from the Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools program. A school preparedness Web site has been created: plan. The site is designed to help schools develop crisis plans for emergencies. 

US PUPILS AND LITERACY - Fourth-graders in the US score better in reading than many of their peers around the world, but the nation's poor and minority students still lag behind other US learners, according to a study known as Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of 2001. Students in US public schools outperformed those in 23 of 34 other countries, ranging from top scorers, including Sweden and England, to such lower performers as Iran and Kuwait. Among the highlights:
* 65 percent of US students received more than six hours of reading instruction a week, compared with the international average of 28 percent. Almost all US students attended schools that emphasized reading, while 78 percent of students internationally did.
* Girls scored higher than boys in reading in all countries.
* Within the US, white and Asian students led blacks and Hispanics. Each US racial and ethnic group scored above the international average except blacks.
* US students in private schools scored significantly higher than those in public schools. Also, US students in high-poverty schools scored lower than their counterparts in low-poverty schools.

CHILDREN AND OBESITY - The quality of life for severely obese children and adolescents is roughly equivalent to that of pediatric cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, according to a study conducted by the University of California-San Diego. The research compared very overweight children to ones who were healthy and others who had cancer and found that obesity colored nearly the entire spectrum of physical, emotional, and social activities. Most very overweight children have at least one medical complication and miss as much as four times as much school as normal-weight children. They are also more likely to report feeling socially isolated even though they aren't clinically depressed or anxious, which most of them aren't. The fraction of children ages six to 19 who met the definition of overweight ranged from four percent to about seven percent in the 1960s and 1970s. It jumped to 11 percent in the 1980s and 15 percent in the late 1990s. The average 12-year-old in the study, for example, was five feet, one inch tall and weighed 175 pounds. By comparison, the average 12-year-old boy is four feet, 11 inches and weighs 90 pounds, while a 12-year-old girl is one inch taller and two pounds heavier.

FRUIT AND CANCER RELATIONSHIP - People who were fed plenty of fruit when they were children are less likely to suffer from certain types of cancer, according to a study by the Medical Research Council of London. A study of nearly 4,000 men and women showed that the more fruit that they ate when they were young, the less likely they were to suffer from lung, bowel, and breast cancer later. All of the adults in the study had filled in a food inventory during the 1930s for a study of eating habits. Researchers then studied the medical records of the group up to July 2000, by which time 483 cases of cancer had been diagnosed. In addition to fewer cases of cancer, a high consumption of fruit was associated with a lower death rate from all causes. Individual antioxidants such as vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene were not as protective as fruit.

HYPERACTIVITY AND SNORING - Some hyperactive children thought to be suffering from attention deficit disorder may just be overtired because they are bad sleepers or heavy snorers, reports researchers at the University of Louisville. Researchers report that about one-quarter of five-to-seven year-old children with mild symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also snored. In some cases, the breathing problems reached the level of sleep apnea, where breathing is blocked repeatedly through the night and sleep is disturbed. As many as five percent of American children, a majority of them boys, are believed to be affected by ADHD, which is characterized by inattention, impulsiveness, and overactive behavior.

MEDICAL ERRORS AND CHILDREN - Children with serious medical problems are more likely to experience medical errors in hospitals, reports the Children's National Medical Center in Washington. The researchers indicate that nationwide, children with serious problems such as cystic fibrosis or cancer experience three times as many medical mistakes as children with more benign problems. Most of the mistakes involve medical procedures - doctors using devices such as breathing tubes or diagnostic scopes during surgery or with anesthesia. It is not clear whether the error rates are higher because very sick children spend more time in hospitals, thereby increasing the risk of mistakes, or because their care is more complex. The study also found that boys, children from wealthier households, and those treated in urban hospitals had higher rates of medical errors. 

STUDENT MORALE - Ill-mannered pupils, demoralized teachers, uninvolved parents, and bureaucracy in public schools are greater worries for Americans than the standards and accountability that occupy policy-makers, a study by Public Agenda reports. Teachers, parents, and students said they were concerned about the rough-edged atmosphere in many high schools. Only nine percent of survey respondents said the students they see in public are respectful toward adults. High school students were asked about the frequency of serious fights in schools, and 40 percent said they occur once a month or more; 56 percent said they hardly ever happened; and four percent had no opinion. Only 15 percent of teachers said teachers said teacher morale is good in their high schools. Superintendents and principals want more autonomy over their schools, with 81 percent of superintendents and 47 percent of principals saying talented leaders most likely will leave because of politics and bureaucracy. Teachers said their views generally are ignored by decision-makers, with 70 percent feeling left out of their district's decision-making process. 

SPECIAL ED - States that use per-student funding for special education had higher growth in the number of special-ed students than those states that use a lump-sum approach to special-ed funding, reports the Manhattan Institute. The study indicates that from 1990-91 to 2000-01, special education enrollment in states with lump sum funding rose from 10.5 percent to 11.5 percent; enrollment rose from 10.6 percent to 12.6 percent in states that adjust funding depending on the number of students enrolled in special education.

YOUTH CONFIDENCE - According to a Communities in Schools, Luntz Research, and Strategic Services survey of 601 youths, the percentage of students ages 12-17 who say they will be extremely or very successful in 20 or 30 years:
* Students with a strong adult presence - 84 percent
* Students with a weak adult presence - 57 percent

TEACHER DISSATISFACTION - Every summer, school districts nationwide worry over how they will replace the estimated 16 percent of their teachers who quit, transfer, or retire. A study by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, however, suggests that school district instead should focus on why these teachers leave the system; that is, it is a retention problem. The study reveals that one in three new teachers quit during their first three years and nearly half leave within five years. Turnover is worst in schools serving low-income, urban children. Many teachers start their careers in urban schools, and then leave for suburbs, where they find better pay and better cooperation from parents and administrators. Overall, teaching has a slightly higher turnover rate than other professions, which lose about 12 percent of their workers annually. More than a quarter million teachers leave their jobs each year. Retirees account for nearly one-fourth of those, and others simply quit. Another one-quarter leaves one school for another.

SAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT GUIDEBOOKS - OJJDP announces the availability of a series of eight guidebooks that provide local school districts with information and resources to assist them in developing a comprehensive strategy to create a safe learning environment:
Guide 1: Creating Schoolwide Prevention Strategies
Guide 2: School Policies and Legal Issues Supporting Safe Schools
Guide 3: Implementing Ongoing Staff Development to Enhance Safe Schools
Guide 4: Ensuring Quality School Facilities and Security Technologies
Guide 5: Fostering School-Law Enforcement Partnerships
Guide 6: Instituting School-Based Links with Mental Health and Social Service Agencies
Guide 7: Fostering, School Family, and Community Involvement
Guide 8: Acquiring and Utilizing Resources to Enhance and Sustain a Safe Learning Environment
The guidebooks are available at To obtain a free CD containing all eight guides, call (800) 268-2275.

OJJDP PUBLICATIONS - The following publications can be ordered free of charge:
Juvenile Residential Facility Census, 2000: Selected Findings.
Violent Victimization as a Risk Factor for Violent Offending Among Juveniles -
Juvenile Arrest: 2000 -
Juvenile Gun Courts: Promoting Accountability and Providing Treatment -
Best Practices in Juvenile Accountability: Overview -
Race as a Factor in Juvenile Arrests -
Highlights of the 2001 National Youth Gang Survey - http://ojjdp/
Prevalence and Development of Child Delinquency -
Child Maltreatment 2000 -
Responding to Gangs: Evaluation and Research -
Safe Harbor: A School-Based Victim Assistance/Violence Prevention Program - 2003/

HIGH RATE OF HISPANICS QUIT SCHOOL - According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Hispanic children (21 percent) quit school almost at a rate of three times that of whites (8 percent) and twice that of blacks (12 percent). Among the reasons:
* Poorly designed reading programs and research on how to teach a child whose primary language is not English.
* Many school districts fail to track the academic success of their students by race and ethnicity; therefore, little data are available on the performance of Hispanic students. Schools also fail to verify dropout rates.
* Many schools have low expectations for Hispanic students and don't steer them toward college.
* Surveys show that only 38 percent of Hispanic parents believe schools give them the information they need to help their children succeed in the classroom.

SEX ON TV - Some findings found in the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2003 report on the amount of sexual content on television:
Among all shows with sexual content involving teen characters, the percentage that also contain safer sex references:
1997-1998 = 18 percent
1999-2000 = 17 percent
2001-2002 = 34 percent
Percentage of shows with sexual content, by type of show, in 2001-2002:
Among all shows = 64 percent
Among prime time broadcast shows = 71 percent
Among top 20 teen shows = 83 percent

SCHOOL MEALS - School lunches are more healthful than a decade ago, but many schools still fall short of feeding children the right amount of nutrients and too much fat, the GAO reports to congress. No more than 30 percent of the total calories should come from fat, according to the Agriculture Department, which oversees the national school lunch program. Of the 22 elementary and high schools reviewed nationwide, three-fourths were serving meals containing 34 percent fat based on an audit of the 1998-99 school year. Although the fat content remains high, it is an improvement over 1991-92 when school meals were 38 percent fat. Additionally, elementary school meals had 68 milligrams of cholesterol, a 19 percent drop from 1992 levels while high school meals had 75 milligrams, a 21 percent drop from 1992.

BINGE DRINKING - The problem of binge drinking begins well before teenagers set foot on a college campus, reports Columbia's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. The study found that America has an epidemic of underage drinking that germinates in elementary and middle schools. More than five million high school students admit to binge drinking at least once a month. The two-year study concluded that youths are trying their first drinks at younger ages. For the class of 1975, 27 percent of the high school graduating class began using alcohol in the eighth grade or earlier. In 1999, that number had risen to 36 percent, the study said. Underage drinkers consumed as much as $27 billion worth of alcohol in 1998 - $15 billion on beer alone. 

That figure represents about one-fourth of all alcohol sold in the US that year. A liquor industry spokesperson disputed the study findings, saying that the figures are greatly exaggerated. While the study did not conclude that the overall number of student drinkers is on the rise, it did establish that alcohol is the Number One drug of choice for teenagers. By their senior year in high school, 80 percent of teenagers had tried alcohol, compared with 47 percent who had experimented with marijuana, and 29 percent who had tried another illegal drug. However, alcohol was a contributing factor in the top three causes of death among teens: accidents, homicide, and suicide.
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