WILMINGTON, MA — The Wilmington School Committee unanimously approved the request of the district’s Coordinator of Behavioral Health Alice Brown-Legrand to implement the “Signs of Suicide” (S.O.S.) Prevention Program at the Wilmington Middle School this fall.
The request was approved after Brown-Legrand and Middle School Health Teacher Lisa Federici made a 30-minute presentation at a recent School Committee meeting.
Brown-Legrand and Federici emphasized the scope of the problem, noting that suicide is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 11 and 18.
“According to the 2015 Wilmington Middle School Youth Risk Report, 21.2% of students reported seriously considering attempting suicide; 14.0% reported developing a suicide plan; and 6.6% reported actually attempting suicide,” began Brown-Legrand. “As a community, it’s imperative to respond with prevention efforts to support the health and wellness of our developing adolescents.
Brown-Legrand was first made aware of the S.O.S. Prevention Program by Federici this fall, who was concerned that the current health curriculum was potentially lacking in helping students address symptoms of depression and how to react if they, or their friends, were experiencing it.
“In October 2016, Interim Superintendent Joanne Benton gave permission for a team of teachers and specialists to meet to explore the SOS Prevention Program for possible implementation at the Middle School,” said Brown-Legrand. The team, which consisted of health teachers, school nurses, guidance counselors, and Brown-Legrand, “met with two local districts currently implementing the program, Saugus and Arlington. The team was able to ascertain what was working well in these districts, which provided the blueprints for possible implementation.”
While Brown-Legrand and Federici value the Youth Risk Behavior Survey results, the results are blind and don’t allow teachers, nurses and guidance counselors to follow up with at-risk students. The SOS program, on the other hand, allows for immediate intervention.
“The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program is a universal, school-based awareness and suicide prevention program designed for middle school and high school students,” explained Brown-Legrand. “It is an evidenced based program, which has shown a reduction in self-reported suicide attempts by 40%-64% in randomized control studies.”
Goals of the program include:
- Decrease suicide and suicide attempts by increasing student knowledge and adaptive attitudes about depression.
- Encourage personal help-seeking and/or help-seeking on behalf of a friend.
- Reduce the stigma of mental illness and acknowledge the importance of seeking help or treatment.
- Engage parents and school staff as partners in prevention through “gatekeeper” education.
- Encourage schools to develop community-based partnerships to support student mental health.
“Both the middle school and high school programs provide age-appropriate, educational DVDs for school staff to play for students,” noted Brown-Legrand. “The middle school video (Time to ACT) and the high school video (Friends for Life) inform students how to A.C.T. (Acknowledge, Care and Tell), demonstrate the right and wrong ways to help, and show a student talking with a school counselor.”
While Brown-Legrand and Federici would eventually like to see the program implemented in higher grades, for the 2017-2018 school year, the program will focus exclusively on 7th graders, half of which will be screened in the first quarter and the other half screened in the third quarter. Additional follow-up would occur one month after each screening.
“The SOS Health Curriculum will be provided during health classes in fall and spring semesters, co-taught with Health Teachers and Clinical Staff (Guidance Counselors and School Psychologists). All clinical staff at the Middle School will participate in order for all students to be supported during this process,” said Brown-Legrand.
LeGrand-Brown hopes to have a Parents Education Night on SOS in the fall, so parents can ask questions and get their concerns answered face-to-face. That night may possibly be rolled into the Middle School’s Fall Open House.
“Information regarding the program will be sent out to parents as well as the steps taken to support students at risk,” said LeGrand-Brown. “”Parents would have the opportunity of opting their child out through passive consent. ”
Federici stressed that if student is screened and found to be at an elevated risk for suicide, parents would be notified immediately and the student will meet with his or her guidance counselor the same day of the screening.
“In talking to other districts, it’s common to pick up at least five struggling kids each year that are on no one’s radar screens,” said Brown-LeGrand. “That, alone, makes the program worth doing it.”
The curriculum, itself, is free, aside from some minor photocopying costs.
“The curriculum is being provided for free from the training agency,” said Brown-LeGrand. “Staff will participate in free online SOS Prevention training as well.”
“These stats are eye opening. I have two girls in Middle School next year. Very scary,” remarked School Committee member Manny Mulas.
The School Committee unanimously supported the proposal, with several members expressing a desire to see the program eventually expand to the 8th grade and high school.
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