MY TURN By Dr. Michael DiGeronimo

| 23 Feb 2012 | 03:39

    Coming together as a community I am writing on behalf of the nine members of the Monroe-Woodbury Board of Education concerning the recent tragic events that have affected our entire community. The Board of Education would like to express its deepest sympathy to the Dimino family and Jacobsen family for their loss. Our prayers go out to them. Measured response The death of any child is a sad and tragic event, and the sudden death of these two young individuals has touched students, faculty and parents. The district’s response to the sudden death of any child is rapid and predicated on experts’ recommendations for best practice in dealing with the after effects. The district’s approach is two-fold, with a measured and focused response for each segment. Under the direction of Superintendent Mehrhof, the district initially and appropriately works with the family of the child to address their immediate needs. School officials make contact, preferably by means of a meeting, and often refer family members to outside agencies for support. The district simultaneously works with all of the other students, using grief counselors and specialists who can help restore a sense of normalcy to our children’s environment. During this time, the faculty, staff and administration work together to identify other “at risk” children and works with these teenagers and their families, ensuring their safety. The administration also monitors attendance to identify any anomalies. Because we know that teachers and staff were deeply affected by the recent events, they were notified directly by the administration. Counselors and specialists also were available to provide support. The faculty and staff are the frontline defense for our children and returning the classroom to normalcy. Research has shown that students who feel connected to their school are less likely to experience suicidal thoughts and emotional distress. Our teachers are excellent facilitators in making this connection, but more importantly, at identifying students that could potentially be at risk. Talk with your children The death of any young person can be accidental or more tragically deliberate, and suicide is the most painful. Even though we might try to understand the reasons for them doing this, we can never really know what made them take their life. There is never just one reason for a suicide. In most instances, we will never be able to figure them all out. Although the reasons why people commit suicide are complex, life circumstances that may immediately precede someone committing suicide include. They may include, for example, the time period of at least a week after discharge from a psychiatric care unit or a sudden change in how the person appears to feel. Examples of other possible initiators of suicide include a real or imagined failure like the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving to a new locality, loss, especially if by suicide of a friend, substance abuse, depression and, to a lesser degree, bullying. The third leading cause of death of teenagers is suicide, followed by traffic accidents. The true number of suicides is likely higher because some deaths that were thought to be an accident, like a single-car accident, overdose or shooting, are not recognized as being a suicide. Boys 10 to 14 years of age commit suicide twice as often as their female age peers. Boys 15 to 19 years of age complete suicide five times as often as girls their age, and men 20 to 24 years of age commit suicide 10 times as often as women their age. The Board of Education recognizes the important role the district plays in monitoring and preventing sudden death of our teens, especially from suicide. Suicide prevention is incorporated in the district’s health curriculum, along with anti-bullying. However, the school has the teenager just seven hours a day and the parents are responsible for the child during the remaining 17 hours. Parents are part of the frontline defense and they can help their children by keeping lines of communication open. Talk with your children daily about what is happening at school. Let them understand that you care and want to know immediately if there is something wrong. Put no boundaries on the subject matters they can discuss with you. Media coverage Taking all of this under consideration, we must realize that suicide is a community responsibility requiring the involvement of parents, friends, relatives, the school, the clergy, public and mental health officials, law enforcement and the media. The news media has to take responsibility that they do not sensationalize or glamorize the event, because experts have shown that it leads to an increase in suicide clusters. Experts have shown that repetitive or prominent news coverage, especially TV coverage of a suicide, tends to maintain preoccupation among the at-risk teenagers. Other students may identify with the deceased student and imitate their behavior. I have contacted the various news outlets and most of them understand the risk and have worked with the district. On Feb. 3, Mr. Mehrhof and I met with News 12, the local TV station, to explain to them that the repetitive TV coverage of this tragedy is sensationalizing the event and putting teenagers and other adolescents at risk to imitate the tragedy. We are hoping that they will cooperate with our appeal and stop the repetitive coverage of these heartbreaking events. In closing, the Board of Education would like to thank the members of the entire community for coming together during this difficult time. The Board would also like to applaud our teenagers for coming forward to protect their friends. The devastation that suicide creates makes it a concerning public-health issue. This is a community issue and we have to come together as a society to protect our most valuable assets - our children. Dr. Michael DiGeronimo is president of the Monroe-Woodbury School Board.