A survey of District 91 students and their parents designed to shed light on the lives of Forest Park adolescents suggests kids have little faith that the adults in their neighborhood are taking a genuine interest in them. That finding, coupled with other survey results that show students don’t feel they’re getting enough academic support at home, could be critical in developing intervention programs that benefit youth and adults, according to organizers of the survey.
Michael Kelly, a researcher with Loyola University of Chicago School of Social Work, is working with community leaders to curb rowdy and sometimes dangerous behavior in teens. He is the lead researcher on the project.
“This means that a lot of kids have already decided their neighborhood is not a comfortable place for them,” Kelly said of how adolescents perceive their neighbors.
The sociologist held a similar meeting in February during which civic leaders agreed that a survey might be helpful. Kelly’s work with the community is being funded by a grant. He presented his findings on Oct. 19 to representatives of local government, the schools, West Cook YMCA, the library and the park district.
It is important to recognize, said Kelly, that a majority of parents and students surveyed said they have mostly positive relationships within their immediate neighborhood. However, almost 26 percent of students in grades 3-5 said they don’t believe adults are very supportive. Among middle school students, that perception is held by 49 percent of kids.
According to Kelly, a nationwide sampling of students found that only 4.6 percent of students hold such a dim view of the adults in their community.
Among Forest Park parents, approximately 20 percent said they don’t believe their neighbors can be trusted, or that they take much interest in the lives of their children.
“All of this is going to come down to, what do we say is an acceptable level of risk,” Kelly said of the poor relationships within the community.
Also identified as relevant to Forest Park’s goal of helping its youth is the finding that many kids in the community are not spending much time in after school programs such as team sports, scouting or activities organized by the Park District of Forest Park. According to the survey, 58 percent of parents said their child participates in no such activities after school.
Community leaders questioned whether the survey asked respondents to qualify their answers so that brainstorming solutions could begin. Such input was not sought with this survey, said Kelly, but a few focus groups or other forums could provide greater insight into why community members hold the views that they do.
“We know what some of our issues are, we need to start coming up with ways to address them,” Lou Cavallo, superintendent of District 91, said.
Students in each of the district’s five schools participated in the survey between April and June, with a total of 139 kids included. Parents who attended open-house events in September were also surveyed.