Boston Public School wellness report finds percent of students vaping cut in half

Boston Public School officials discusses vaping and marijuana use at a committee meeting in Roxbury on Wed. Oct. 30, 2019. Photo by Nick Telesmanic/ BU News Service

By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service

BOSTON — Boston Public School officials presented a revelatory report Wednesday night in Roxbury that showed the percentage of students in the district vaping dropped by approximately half between 2015 and 2017.

Jill Carter, the assistant superintendent of the Social-Emotional Learning and Wellness (SEWell) and Maryka Lier, the assistant director of wellness policy at SEWell, laid out their Comprehensive District Wellness Policy report to the Boston Public Schools Committee.

Carter explained that in 2017, 7.3% of reported middle schoolers were vaping and that 5.7% of high schoolers vaped. This showed an overall decline of a school-wide 14.5% from 2015’s data. BPS’s 2017 and 2015 rates were both lower than the state and federal averages.

Carter said by the end of the year, the 2019 report would reveal whether the trend will be moving up or down. Lier anticipated that there might be an “up-tick” in the percentages from 2017.

Michael Locontom, the chairperson of the School Committee, said he recognizes the gravity of this problem and the school committee is actively finding ways to solve it. 

“We recognize that vaping and tobacco products, as we all know, is a concern,” he said. “We are working very closely with the Boston Health Commission.

“We have been nationally recognized as having one of the most comprehensive wellness policies in the country,” Carter said. “We know it will take a multi-level, collaborative approach to change the Boston Public Schools area.”

Even so, Student Representative Evelyn Reyes, a senior at the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science, noted that another statistic in the report, that 25% of Boston Public Schools students have tried marijuana before, is quite alarming.

“Marijuana is a major problem,” Carter said. “Having a student voice in a room of adults really matters.”

One of the main improvements expected in this year’s report compared to the one presented Wednesday is the accessibility to clean tap water in Boston Public Schools. The 2017-18 report found that 73% of school buildings remain offline for drinking tap water and rely on bottled water sources. This means the water in the fountains is not safe to drink. Lier said the new report would also highlight 17 locations that will have tap water students can safely drink.

“This will bring significant improvement for water testing,” Lier said. 

She also said in 2019,100% of water fountains will be tested for water quality and will have their issues addressed.

Dan O’Brien, who oversees media relations at BPS, acknowledged the 2017 numbers and said that more water fountains are present now than there was in 2017, which helps make clean water more accessible.

 “We are bringing more schools online to have water fountains as opposed to bottled water,” O’Brien said.

Carter acknowledged that the data is not the most recent, being from nearly two full school years ago. However, she did note that the district compiles information on a one-year delay, and it is good to present the report to new district leadership to use as a reference, as well as look at the metrics of the report in tandem and discuss their impact on student health incomes.

The report contains statistics from 2017 and 2018 on many other vital components of Boston Public Schools that are both positive and negative. Carter and Lier hope to use these numbers as a measuring stick to determine what has improved, as well as critical points of focus when the 2019 Wellness Policy Report gets released later this year.

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