Going Forward: Life after tragedy on AHS Campus

Going Forward: Life after tragedy on AHS Campus

By Colleen Hughes

Kate & Ella After Tragedy Times Publishing Group Inc tpgonlinedaily.com

Aptos High School hosted a community town hall meeting on March 18 to, “Have a Conversation” with community members about the emotional/physical safety of students. This came after the recent suicides of two AHS students that left the school reeling. The intended outcome of the meeting was to provide information and resources (mainly psychological safely) to the student body at AHS.

As I walked into the foyer, I was greeted by one of the three student counselors who introduced herself to me. The Principal and all Vice Principals were present. Also present was Kim DeSerpa, PVUSD Board member, and School Psychologist, Ralph Howe. On the tables were pamphlets, and lists of resources from the Parent Stress Hotline to the Suicide Hotline. Also available were Ten Tips for Teens to minimize stress and how to create coping skills.

Principle Casey O’Brien presented statistics for (national) suicide rates, attempts and mental health disorders, which included:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24. Approximately 78% are boys.
  • Six point three percent of 9-12 graders reported having attempted suicide one or more times in the past year.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 students have a diagnosable mental health disorder. The numbers are unknown for those who remain undiagnosed.

Unknown-1Casey O’Brien and the AHS Administration’s Goal announced in the spring of 2013 was to “Create a safe educational environment that fosters the development of a caring community where students feel connected to and supported by peers and adults”. This means that a solid framework must be designed, FUNDED and implemented as a comprehensive school or district-wide approach that facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration.

Also, in the spring of 2013, O’Brien met with Dr. Gabrielle Grant of The Center for Trauma Informed Schools to educate staff and implement a program for how to handle school crisis and trauma. AHS Counselors attended workshops in 2013 and an onsite meeting was scheduled for March 2014 at which the faculty would be informed about the program being implemented. That date happened to be just a week after the second AHS suicide.

The Aptos High School Model is now being incorporated into the PVUSD. At the time of the suicides, PVUSD did not have a protocol in place on how to handle student suicide.

On-Site Social/Emotional and Safety Resources in place:

  • Three academic and social emotional counselors for every 400 students
  • One School Psychologist who splits his time between Aptos and Renaissance High Schools
  • One mental health provider for E.D. students.
  • PVUSD Prevention and Student Assistance: one intern (approx 3.5 hours per day) and an on-site full time credentialed counselor. (No confirmed date for implementation was available at the time of this article.)
  • Jesse the Safety Dog
  • Santa Cruz County Sheriff
  • A “Yellow Resource Folder” for teachers when they spot a potential Social/Emotional issue with a student. They then pass on information to administration so counseling and resources can be assigned.
  • Attendance Review Team

We were introduced to students who have initiated and run active clubs that address the various social needs of students on campus.

Bridge Project Club brings Special Ed and general Ed students together.

Rise Above Club is an Anti Bullying club that actively campaigns against bullying and provides peer-to-peer support.

Be The Change is the newest club to come on board (just one week old). This is the brainchild of Ella Pettigrew and Kate Robins who were compelled to “create a place on campus where kids can go for peer support for mental health and feel accepted.”

Kate said, “Principle O’Brian liked our idea so we filled out the club charter paperwork and were granted $250 to start our club.” Kate’s mom is a grant writer and will be helping her seek grant money to fund psychological services. Their vision is to hold weekly club meetings and get the word out via a school assembly. “We would like to go to the Junior High Schools and talk about mental health and suicide before they get to high school. Students really didn’t know about any of the resources that are available on or off campus until these suicides happened”

They said they knew that Aptos was a “Distinguished School” with lots of emphasis on athletics. Neither Kate nor Ella knew why Aptos High was designated a “Distinguished School” but were very concerned that mental health care and counseling is lacking. They would like to see more onsite professionals available for student counseling. Kate and Ella have a Facebook page up and running and in less than one week have 100 “likes.” Please visit their Facebook page at Be The Change Aptos.

Off-Site resources and referrals are also available through AHS community partnerships such as Santa Cruz County Children’s Mental Health and Hospice.

After the presentation, audience members introduced themselves. There were about 50-60 people there of which half were staff, administrators and PVUSD Board members.

Contact Colleen Hughes at info@cyber-times.com

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