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Rising From Rust

How students really feel about their hometowns

A series of student surveys

How students really feel about their hometowns

MANSFIELD – Richland County might have jobs, affordable housing and declining crime rates, but if residents don't see it that way, what does it matter? Facts are facts, but perceptions are reality. 

“Our community isn’t perfect, and I am not suggesting we throw on a pair of rose-colored glasses as a quick fix, but if we change the lens we see the community through, it'd be a big step in the right direction,” CEO of Downtown Mansfield Inc. Jennifer Kime wrote in a recent blog.

She was talking about the city’s negative self-image and encouraging Mansfield residents to speak pridefully about their community.

“People are listening. The next generation is listening; new residents are listening; and visitors are absolutely listening,” Kime said.

To identify where Richland County's poor self-esteem begins, the Richland Source turned to local elementary and high school students.

WHO WAS SURVEYED

The Richland Source survey included 510 students with 216 in 12th grade and 294 in fourth and fifth grades. With advice primarily from Shelby Superintendent Tim Tarvin, staff reporters developed survey questions and determined what age groups would best be able to respond.

The intention was to get opinions from high school students, who are immediately thinking about what they’ll do and where they’ll live post-graduation, and elementary school students, who have not yet fully formed opinions of their hometowns.

Schools participating included Mansfield Senior High School, Mansfield’s Malabar Elementary and Spanish Immersion Schools; Shelby High School and Shelby’s Dowds Elementary School; Ontario High School and Ontario’s Stingel Elementary School; Madison Comprehensive High School; Lucas High School and Elementary School; Lexington Junior High School; Crestview High School and Elementary School; Crestline High School and Galion High School.

Others were invited, but did not participate. These schools included Plymouth High School and Plymouth-Shiloh Elementary School; Mansfield’s Woodland Elementary School, Prospect Elementary School, John Sherman Elementary and Springmill STEM Elementary; Shelby’s Auburn Elementary; Madison’s Eastview, South and Mifflin Elementary Schools; Lexington High School; Crestline Elementary School and Galion Primary School.

Reasons for lack of participation vary. For example, Mansfield City Schools superintendent Brian Garverick chose to send the surveys to two of the district’s multiple elementary schools. Other superintendents expressed concern about affecting instructional time, a situation Lucas High School approached by asking students to answer the surveys from home.

QUESTION: DO THEY LIKE THEIR HOMETOWN?  

ANSWER: YES.

The answer was a resounding “Yes” with elementary students and still a solid “Yes” with high school seniors.

Just under 95 percent of local elementary students responded, “Yes, I like my hometown,” and about five percent answered, “No, I don’t.” Two students skipped the question.

On the high school survey, 77 percent of students reported liking where they live, while 23 percent said they don’t like their hometowns.

Elementary school students consistently held a higher opinion of their hometown than their older peers in every district where both grade levels participated, but the trend is especially clear in Shelby, Lucas and Galion. Fourth and fifth grade students in those districts expressed 100 percent approval ratings of their hometowns, but the rate dropped to 84, 86 and 76, respectively. 

See full results at Do They Like Their Hometown?

The Richland Source recently surveyed 510 students with 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth and fifth grades. Among other questions, students were asked: "Do you like your hometown?"

QUESTION: WILL THEY STAY?

ANSWER: MAYBE.

When asked if they’ll stay post-graduation, the most common answer from both high school and elementary students was “Maybe.”

About 33 percent of elementary students and 30 percent of high schoolers said “Maybe.” With the additional 20 percent of the elementary students and 6 percent of the seniors saying, “I don’t know.”

Meanwhile, high school students lean towards leaving. A combined 49 percent of high school students they “probably” or “definitely” won’t stay in their hometown, while only 15 percent say they’ll “probably” or “definitely” stay.

This compares with the elementary school students who lean – less significantly – towards staying. About 28 percent of fourth and fifth graders said they’ll “definitely” or “probably” stay, while 19 percent say they “probably” or “definitely” will leave.

See full results by school district at Will They Stay?

The Richland Source recently surveyed 510 students with 216 in 12th grade and 294 in either fourth and fifth grades.  Among other questions, students were asked: "Will you stay in your hometown after graduation?"

QUESTION: WHAT MATTERS?

ANSWER: JOBS & SAFETY.

High school students consider finding a job they like as the key factor affecting where they live after graduation, while elementary school students are most concerned about safety.

For this portion of the survey, students were asked to mark all the factors that matter to them when considering where they will choose to live.

About 93 percent of seniors included “finding a likable job” as an important factor. And “finding a job that pays well” followed for a close second place with 86 percent of the surveyed students marking it as something that matters.

More than half the high schoolers listed “affordable housing,” “clean and nice neighborhoods,” “safe communities with low crime rates” and “enough things to do” as influencing factors. Only 38 percent were concerned about having enough restaurants and 22 percent cared about the existence of public transportation.

Elementary students were asked similar questions with some variations in wording to account for the age gap.

According to the results, 78 percent of fourth and fifth graders consider “safe communities” a factor in where they imagine living as adults.

Roughly three-quarters of the group are also starting to consider likable jobs and pay at this point in their lives.

More than 50 percent care about “clean and nice neighborhoods,” “affordable housing,” and “enough fun things to do.” Access to public transportation was a factor for about half the students, and having enough restaurants was the least concern with only 38 percent of students considering it a factor that matters.

QUESTION: IS PERCEPTION THE SAME AS REALITY?

ANSWER: MAYBE NOT.

After sharing what matters to them, students were asked to rate their hometown for the same factors.

The results were clear. Richland County elementary students generally see their hometowns in a positive light, while high schoolers aren’t impressed with at least some aspects of where they live.

The seniors surveyed especially don’t believe their hometowns offer enough likable jobs, good-paying jobs and things to do.

Some of their opinions reflect their communities accurately. Some might not.

Stay tuned. The next story in this series will be released soon. Follow along at www.richlandsource.com/risingfromrust.

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This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."