Haverhill Youth Feel Unsafe at School, Seek Resources to Quit Vaping, Says New Student-Led Study

Ailish Ferrick (left) and Gabriela Vargas present findings from the Haverhill Youth Council survey to members of the City Council Oct. 22, 2019. (WHAV News photograph)

An alarming number of Haverhill youth feel unsafe at school and need help to quit vaping, a new student-led study from the city’s Youth Council shows.

More than half of the nearly 600 students who responded to the Youth Council’s survey told organizer Robin DelNegro and members Dale Leone, Ailish Ferrick, Karyna Ward, Gabriela Vargas and Shannon Kaiser that they sought more training for staff and students in case of an emergency because they felt unsafe in their school, the group told city councilors at Tuesday night’s Council meeting.

Addiction resources and access to school support staff and social workers were also requested by survey takers, the Youth Council said. Notably, half of 10- to 12-year-olds said they felt unsafe at school, while 70 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds said they want more access to addiction resources.

As part of the survey, students could also supply open-ended responses to what they thought the city needed more of. A sampling: “Schools, particularly Haverhill High, need to address the students on their respect to other students. My parents are on the verge of transferring me to another school because of the violence,” wrote one student. Said another: “The decline in our youth’s morals. We have students more interested in drugs and gangs than graduating and bettering their future.”

The upkeep of and access to school bathrooms, particularly at Haverhill High School, was also a major theme among survey takers, the Youth Council said.

City councilors, including Timothy J. Jordan and Colin F. LePage, applauded the Youth Council’s initiative and hope the group will conduct the study annually to see how student trends and opinions change over time. The group also intends to present their findings—gathered between June-October from youth age 10-21 at Haverhill High, three group homes, the Greater Haverhill Boys and Girls Club, parks, and other locations—to the School Committee.

“This data really does matter. It’s alarming. If kids themselves are saying ‘We need help. We need someone safe to talk to,’ or ‘We don’t feel safe in school,’ I just hope that’s noticed and you’ll consider it as it comes down, as we continue to talk to people and seeing what else we can do to advocate for these things to happen,” Youth Council Chairwoman DelNegro said.

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