On the loss of a teenager

Friends,
One of the high schools in my district has suffered two major student losses this month. The first, a star senior football player, died unexpectedly in his sleep for unknown reasons (although drug use is suspected). The second, a freshman, took his own life this past weekend.
Prayers or thoughts for those families would be welcome, but more importantly, be sure to tell the people in your life that you love and honor them. Because you just never know…

Teen suicide and drug use are topics that weigh heavily on everyone’s hearts, but teachers especially, I think, feel the burden of these losses.  Often we wonder if there was something more we could have done, some sign we should have seen.  There are always warning signs, but sometimes parents are so busy leading their own lives and teachers get caught up in the “job” of teaching that we forget the interpersonal responsibilities that come with it.

Whether we have 20 or 200 students at a given time, one of the best ways to see the warning signs is by simply looking into the eyes of every student.  Can you look at your friends, your spouse, your neighbor and tell what they might be feeling?  So it goes with children.  They are far less accustomed to hiding their emotions – adults have had much more practice.

Counselors in schools rarely get the chance to actually counsel students.  Instead they are increasingly used as registrars and testing coordinators.  My district employed a few Licensed School Psychologists, but they are used mostly for assessments made on recommendations, for determining Emotional Disturbance, or making recommendations at ARD meetings.  We are a big district, with four high schools ranging in size from 800 students to over 2000 students.  The ratio is slightly alarming, I think.

So now that we’ve suffered these losses in the district, the upper administration are scrambling to make sure there’s no domino effect.  Shouldn’t we have had on-going training, both at administrative and teacher levels as prevention?  Yes.

We have these giant high schools because it’s more cost effective, because we want to compete at a higher level in sports, because we want to provide lots of extra-curricular opportunities… but with such large student bodies, a few of those children are bound to get lost in the shuffle.

I’m not okay with saying “c’est la vie” to this given outcome.  I’m not okay with blaming it all on the parents or stress or peer pressure like society seems so willing to do.  It’s true that we can’t stop it all the time, but we never want to look back and think “I should have noticed…” or “I saw the signs, but didn’t do anything…”  Sometimes, all it takes is to show that you care.

How then, do we make sure that doesn’t happen? That those kids who need our support get it before these dire straights?

PREVENTION.  Know the signs, know the kids, know who to call.

I does take a village…

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