Survey reports high social-emotional strengths among Norwalk teens

Denique Weidema-Lewis, director of prevention for Positive Directions, speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Nearly 80% of Norwalk adolescents surveyed show signs of a strong “internal compass,” a strength that will reportedly help them avoid risky behaviors.

So said Denique Weidema-Lewis, director of prevention for Positive Directions, a Westport nonprofit, in presenting a summary of results Tuesday to the Norwalk Board of Education.  Weidema-Lewis said the survey showed “exceptionally high” social and emotional skills among Norwalk teens.

Positive Directions worked with Norwalk ACTS to survey seventh, ninth and eleventh graders, in coordination with Norwalk Public Schools.  Weidema-Lewis and NPS Chief of Technology, Innovations and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi said the answers returned a wealth of data, despite what BoE Chairman Mike Barbis characterized as some hiccups in the survey process.

The research is part of Norwalk ACTS’ recent focus on helping Norwalk children develop “social and emotional skills essential for lifelong success,” according to a Norwalk ACTS PowerPoint presentation which Chief Initiative Officer Anthony Allison said just scraped the surface.  The BoE’s summer retreat will feature a deep dive into the results, which run more than 100 pages.

About 2,300 students took the survey in late November, and 335 of those results were discarded for reasons that included not answering thoughtfully or missing more than 40 of the 160 questions, Weidema-Lewis said.  The resultant 14% elimination rate compares favorably to the 15-24% elimination rate reported nationwide by the Search Institute, creator of the survey.

“We are very confident about what we actually got,” she said.

The survey measured “assets;” external assets are support systems such as families, other caring adults and school environments, while internal assets include commitment to learning and social competencies.

Of the 1,976 Norwalk youth whose answers were used for the survey results, 44% scored in the 11-20 asset range, a “quite average” result as Search reports a national average of 19, Weidema-Lewis said.

However, 39% are “thriving” at the 21-30 asset level, she said.

As an example, officials presented this chart:

  • Caring: Young person places high value on helping other people, 76%
  • Equality and Social Justice: Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty, 82%
  • Integrity: Young person acts on convictions and stands up for his or her beliefs, 79%
  • Honesty: Young person tells the truth even when it is not easy, 75%
  • Responsibility: Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility, 76%


“Your young people are self-reporting all of these qualities, it’s exceptionally high,” Weidema-Lewis said. “That they are involved in causes that are much larger than them. That despite the fact that it may be hard, they are sticking with their convictions as well as saying they are honest, even in situations where it can be hard.”

“We know we’re not a perfect city, there’s got to be some flaw in the methodology,” BoE member Bruce Kimmel said.  Earlier in the meeting he had questioned whether the eliminations skewed the results, and Sarah LeMieux suggested that the kids who didn’t answer may be the ones who need help.

“When you do see the report, there’s enough there to work with. It’s very rich,” Allison replied.

Norwalk ACTS will hold community conversations in May, after the report is released, Valenzisi said. Letters have gone out to teachers and parents, and the goal is to create an action plan.

The information will be shared with families in hopes of teaching and reinforcing positive behavior, such as calling a young person by his or her name or offering opportunities to serve in a leadership role within an organization, Weidema-Lewis said.

According to a Norwalk Hour report in December, some parents were surprised and upset by the survey’s questions about drug and alcohol use and sexual intercourse.  Barbis said Tuesday the survey hiccups also included an email to parents sent on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

“There was a real problem with the implementation of this in seventh grade,” Barbis said. “(Notifications) didn’t go out to everybody. We had some really pissed off parents and we have dropped the ball on communication a few times… it’s a systematic issue but this was like the ultimate example.”

“I mean, c’mon,” Barbis said. “That is just not acceptable and I think a majority of these Board members will not let you do a survey in two years again if this isn’t cleaned up. You’ve been warned.”

BoE member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell replied that improvements have already been discussed, including a better rollout with“three contact points with parents over a longer period of time” so they can better understand what their students are being asked.

A one-page document will “make it a learning moment for the entire family and a positive thing for the community,” she said. “But that’s going to require really excellent communications. I think we all recognize that.”

Within the next two years, families should learn more about what the survey is, Valenzis said.  Allison added: “We will improve.”

Norwalk ACTS survey 19-0422 20190425_23495756

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