Health Risk Behaviors of Texas Students Attending Dropout Prevention/Recovery Schools in 1997

Article excerpt

Numerous studies over the past few decades reported that the leading threats to the well-being of young people in the United States most often relate to the health risk behaviors that youth initiate during childhood and adolescence.[1-10] These behaviors may result in acute health concerns such as injuries or pregnancies, or chronic health problems emerging from substance use, improper diet, or physical inactivity. These frequently interrelated and mostly preventable behaviors often persist from adolescence into adulthood, resulting in significant morbidity, mortality, and social problems in youth and adults alike.[1,4]

Nationally representative surveys indicate the prevalence of these risk behaviors among traditionally-schooled youth is substantial.[3,4,6,9,10] Little is known, however, about the prevalence of such behaviors among potential school dropouts attending alternative schools, a population estimated at 4 million students in 1990.[11] A few studies assessed a restricted set of these behaviors in small, localized samples, invariably finding the behaviors of alternative school students to exceed those of regular school students.[12-15] None of these studies, however, was comprehensive in scope, and none featured demographic subgroup differences among sampled students. This study expanded the knowledge of risk behaviors among alternative school students by examining prevalence and co-morbidity of a broad range of health risk behaviors in a larger sample of alternative students than those studied to date.

Since emerging evidence suggests alternative school students are at risk for negative health outcomes, staff conducted a descriptive, cross-sectional study to document prevalence of health risk behaviors among dropout prevention/recovery alternative school students in Texas during spring 1997. Further, because the prevalence of these risk behaviors may vary across demographic subgroups, staff also investigated patterns of risk behavior engagement by gender, race/ethnicity, and age.[16-22] Documentation of the prevalence of health risk behaviors in alternative school students who, unlike dropouts, are still accessible to health educators may facilitate identification of youth populations for which behavioral interventions should be a high priority.

METHODS

Definition of a Dropout Prevention/Recovery School

Six categories of alternative schools exist in Texas. Dropout prevention and recovery schools comprise one category and accommodate students at risk for dropping out or those who have already dropped out of a regular high school and are enrolling in an alternative school to complete requirements for a high school diploma. Criteria for entrance into dropout prevention/recovery schools vary by school district and may include one or more of the following: 1) excessive absences, tardies, or truancies; 2) full-time employment requiring a more flexible, self-paced system; 3) failure of two or more subjects in the regular school; 4) need for a smaller teacher/pupil ratio and class size for optimal functioning; 5) need for remediation to pass graduation exit exams as a result of being two or more years below grade level in math or reading; 6) pregnancy or the need for child care facilities; and 7) need for supplementary teaching support to make up missed school work following an illness.

Sample

Fifty-one dropout prevention/recovery alternative schools were identified in Texas. Sixteen schools were invited to participate and five accepted. Data were collected during March through May of 1997.

Students in attendance at the five participating schools numbered 562 on data collection day. Of these, 470 students completed the survey for a response rate of 85%. One district declined to allow questions related to sexual issues, resulting in a sample size of 365 for sexual behavior variables.

Teachers administered the survey during regular classroom periods and were provided with detailed, written instructions to ensure uniformity across sites. …