High School principal updates M-W School Board on prevention efforts

| 22 Feb 2012 | 04:48

    Several parents also discuss district’s approach to bullying Central Valley - Monroe-Woodbury High School Principal David Bernsley was at home last Saturday evening when he received a call from one of the school’s guidance counselors. Seems a teacher who was marking one of the previous week’s mid-term exams noticed that one student had included an unusual comment on his test paper. Given that two students had died due to suicide in January, the teacher reached out to the counselor. The counselor touched base with the student’s parents. And then alerted Bernsley. On Monday, Bernsley said he spoke with one of the student’s parents, who told him the child was doing better. 'Sustained approach’ Bernsley shared the anecdote as part of his remarks at Monday’s Monroe-Woodbury School Board meeting. The questions each of the nine members asked the principal largely focused on whether he could quantify the impact of the district’s efforts since the death of the two young boys. Experts have counseled Bernsley and the district to go slowly in dealing with the sudden deaths of two members of the high school community. “You know my personality,” Bernsley said at one point. “If there’s a problem, I want to do something about it right now.” But these times require a different approach, he said, as he outlined what has been done. There have been counselors available for students at school. Staff have been reminded about the district’s employee assistance program. There has been a forum for parents and others last week to provide as much information on the subject of suicide as possible in several hours as well as to acknowledge the grief and sadness shared by many. Cards with hotline numbers will be distributed to students. There also will be more meetings with groups within the district and within its schools. (See related story on page 2 of this week’s Photo News.) People - be they students, teachers, staff, administrators - also have been looking out for one another, Bernsley said. As he did throughout his remarks, Bernsley emphasized there is no one solution, nor is there a quick one. “We get it,” he said. “This is a sustained approach.” Bullying At the beginning of the school board meeting, several parents talked about the issue of bullying and suicide. School officials have said bullying was not a factor in the deaths of the two young students. But given that bullying, particularly bullying online through social networks, has been cited in the deaths of students elsewhere in the country, these parents had concerns they wanted addressed. One mother said it was important to break the silence about bullying in order to bring awareness. A father said he has created a support group for parents to help one another with these important questions. Another parent thanked the district for the work it already has done. He said he brought a complaint about bullying against one of his children, and the problem was address swiftly. Remember, the parent said, that the school has children for seven hours a day; parents have them for the other 17 hours. “It is our responsibility,” he said. The district has a no tolerance policy regarding bullying. There also are programs in the Middle School and High School. Bernsley said every complaint is investigated. General warning signs of suicide Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself. Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to guns, pills or other means. Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide when these actions are out of ordinary for the person. Feeling hopeless. Feeling rage or uncontrolled anger or feeling a need to seek revenge. Acting reckless or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking. Feeling trapped, or like there’s no way out of a situation Increasing alcohol or drug use Withdrawing from friends, family and society. Feeling anxious, agitated or unable to sleep. Or, conversely, sleeping all the time. Experiencing dramatic mood changes. Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose of life. What to do when a teen’s friend dies by suicide... Deal with your own shock first before approaching your child. Recognize when the “whys” come up that suicide is a complex act that is always related to a variety of causes. We may never fully know why. Parents must recognize that they too will miss their child’s friend. Grief of the parent’s own child must be the parent’s first priority. Processing loss by a teen can be in short and intense moments of emotion. Moments pass quickly, parents must try to catch them to discuss the teen’s emotions with them when the “door is open.” Parents can start by sharing their own sadness and confusion about the death, followed by asking the teen to share their emotions. Validate whatever you hear from your teen. Parents should deal with the rumors as best they can, including indicating that they may never know the full story. Parents should be aware that texting and social networking sites are powerful sources of positive and negative information. Emphasize the most important aspect of the event is that the deceased was doing so badly and was in so much pain they did not realize the consequences of what they were doing. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem! Because of the potential for “copy cat” behaviors, parents must underscore the dangerousness of this behavior. Emphasize the thinness of the line between dangerous behaviors and deadly behaviors. Parents can ask their teens who they would turn to for help with a serious problem and not be upset if they identify someone other than a parent. If a teen is experiencing a problem serious enough to consider suicide as a solution, then it would be important for them to seek help from adults as well as friends. Parents should discuss who trusted adults would be in this situation. Revisit message about seeking help again, since feelings about suicide linger for teens. Source: “The Competent Community in Suicide Prevention” presented by Melanie Puorto, director of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Initiative, at the Jan. 27 community meeting on dealing with sudden child loss at Monroe-Woodbury High School.