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Our Platform

 

Introduction

Our group started in February after the unexpected passing of our best friend Nathan.

Nathan was just like us. He was funny he had lots of friends, a loving family, good social bonds, was involved in sports and had a foundation of faith.


Nathan is still strongly on the minds of all of us every day. We live by the motto “Be Great For Nate” because we know it is what he wants for all of us.


Suicide does not fit within a mold. Suicide does not discriminate.

There are many factors that come into play when someone dies by suicide. Substance dependence and mental health are the two most commonly known. But our friend Nathan did not fit in these categories. His toxicology report showed no drug and alcohol in his system at the time of his passing. He showed no signs of depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation in a psychological evaluation for ADD last year and no social difficulties.


Nathan seemed to have an emotional heart attack based on a situation in his life. In an interview and study conducted, most teens said the reason they attempted suicide was that they were trying to escape a situation that seemed impossible to deal with or to get relief from bad thoughts or feelings.

Our group does what we do because of Nathan. But we also represent every student, and ensuring that all students are protected and supported. Because Nathan is just one case of far too many.

The world is currently amidst a suicide pandemic. The World Health Organization estimates that suicide rates will double in the next two years.

In the United States both teen boy and girl suicide rates are drastically increasing, girls at the highest rate it has ever been.

Change needs to happen. Stigmas need to be broken. And as a society we have to begin to talk about these things.


It may be uncomfortable to think and talk about, but if we don’t first acknowledge that we have a problem then we can never make progress towards ending it.

Our group hopes to be the voice for that change. We must speak for those that can no longer.

Our group knows just how important this work is. That is why we are working with legislatures to turn our ideas into law so that no one has to go through what our friend Nathan did. And that no one has to feel the pain that we do every day.

We strongly believe that we need to start connecting as a society rather than dividing. Open yourself up to talking to those that are not like you. Build connections with the people you meet. Know the signs of a distressed individual and where to turn.

In the Newport County alone, 20% of teen boys have reported feeling hopeless and 20% of those have reported attempting suicide in the last year. According to the bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Rhode Island 23% of middle schoolers and 29% of high schoolers report feeling sad or hopeless for two weeks. On top of that 14% of teens have created a suicide plan and 11% attempted suicide in the past twelve months. All the statics I stated come from right here in our state.

We are working to set up more meetings so we continue our work. In the future we wish to meet with the president of the NEA, the Department of Education, the chief of police and the governor. We will also work to meet with other community agencies throughout the area.


Our group is constantly researching and developing our platform and the programs we believe will make a difference.

We are working to set up more meetings so we continue our work. In the future we wish to meet with the president of the NEA, the Department of Education, the chief of police and the governor. We will also work to meet with other community agencies throughout the area.

Our group is constantly researching and developing our platform and the programs we believe will make a difference.


4,600 lives between the ages of 10 and 24 are lost by suicide each year. And according to the CDC death by suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth.

Each DAY there are 3,041 suicide attempts among teens grades 9 to 12.

Deaths by suicide are the highest they have ever been for teenage girls, and teenage boy suicide is at the highest it has been since the late 90’s, but is steadily increasing to reach its highest point ever recorded.

These are not just numbers, they are lives lost far too soon. We are amidst a national crisis and our group knows that changes must occur, because one life lost is one too many.

The social stigma and culture that surrounds mental illness is one that must be shifted.


Being a teenager is not easy in todays world with all the stresses that come along with the increase of school work and the inception of the social pressures that social media brings. For many teens they spend more time at school and after school activities than they do at their own homes. This is why we must better utilize our schools and communities as natural support systems for teens.


Our group has been hard at work since March to review, improve and create programs and policies that will do these things.

We have met with former and current School resource officers, Portsmouth school district administration, the Portsmouth High School social emotional support staff, Senators Dawn Euer and Jim Seveney, Officials from BHDDH and the Department of Health, the Portsmouth Prevention Collation, and Newport Mental Health.

We are working to set up more meetings so we continue our work. In the future we wish to meet with the president of the NEA, the Department of Education, the chief of police and the governor. We will also work to meet with other community agencies throughout the area.


Our group is constantly researching and developing our platform and the programs we believe will make a difference.

Open Door Policy

Our first policy is one that we believe is vital in providing support. We would like to see all schools adopt an open door policy for providing social emotional support. This means that there would always be someone with social emotional support training to talk to.
This policy will ensure that when a student is in crisis or distress they are not turned away when they reach out for help, which is what happened to three of the members of this group as they tried to cope with the emotional strain after the loss of one of our close friends Nathan Bruno.
Being turned away in a time of need creates mistrust between students and the support staff that is supposed to be there for them. We believe an open door policy can help avoid these feelings. It will allow students to know there is someone there for them to talk to and turn to.

Check-Ins

To go along with the open door policy we would like to see a program created that sets up a ten-minute check in with a social emotional support staff members three times a year. We believe that there should be a check in at the beginning of the year, the middle of the year and at the end of the year. Though either the parents or student would be able to opt out of the meeting.
Even if the student does not go to the check in they will still be aware of the staffs existence. 
We believe these check-ins need to happen at the beginning middle and end of the school year because the life of a teen is ever changing and having a meeting set up with a social emotional support staff member to talk about something other than academics like they do with the guidance/school counselor. These meetings will give student a place to open up about their feeling.
We would like to work with schools to implement this system and find the evidence based research that best supports the three times a year policy.

Teacher Trainings

Training teachers and other staff on the signs of a distressed teen and the actions steps to take once they are identified is essential to protecting and providing support to teens within the school system.
That is why we believe that all staff within the Portsmouth School system should be trained in some fashion by the end October of this year. Staff being trained should be top priority for this school district and all others within the state.
During our meeting with district administration they told us that teachers will be given training during their orientation tomorrow and will also have the opportunity to become youth mental health first aid certified. This is a step in the right direction for the Portsmouth School District.
We would like to have an active role in ensuring that all staff members are always properly trained in these concepts.

Student Education

Training and awareness of at risk youth does not stop at school staff. 
We believe that to help reduce the rate of teen suicide is to get to the root of the problem. To do this we plan on also ensuring that students are trained to identify the warning signs of an at risk individual.
Teenagers that are considering suicide will most likely have showed signs to one of their close friends.
We would like to see the warning signs taught to students within their health classes as well as integrated into as many other classes as possible, because talking about suicide does not increase ideation, it decreases it.
Our group as learned that the State of Rhode Island has paid for all students’ assistance counselors within schools to receive the Signs of Suicide curriculum.
Portsmouth school district administration told us that their student assistance counselor will be working with the health department to begin the implementation of Signs of Suicide into the class, but we would like to work along side them to ensure it happens and in a timely manner.

QPR

Our group is currently working to become certified in the Question Persuade Refer program so we can become gatekeepers in helping to prevent suicides. QPR is an internationally used process to teaching the general public how to ask the tough questions when you identify someone as at risk of suicide.
We would like some of our members to become certified trainers so they can offer the training to parents and other community members.

Restorative Practice

Another program we strongly believe is effective in schools is the use of restorative practice. It is a necessity that schools dig deeper to find out why a student is acting out, instead of just punishing the action. This tactic makes the students feel the administration is with them not against them.
Also, this will encourage students to open up more and create a trust with teachers and administration.
Restorative Practice create a system of talking about feelings and issues, it is a very student oriented system.
We believe it is a good idea to look at revamping the disciplinary system within the school using restorative practice and student input.
To do this we create a student committee to help find ways to integrate restorative practice into the school culture. Our group understands it takes the entire school to make this happen.

Guidance/School Counselor Label Change

We strongly believe that the label school or guidance counselor leads to confusion for students in where to turn in a time of need. When our friend passed away three of our group members; Connor, Angel and Owen, went to seek emotional support in the guidance department. When they got there they were turned away and told that they could make an appointment to receive support at another time.
Not all guidance counselors are trained in social emotional support, thus the term guidance counselor led them in the wrong direction.
We would rather them be labeled academic advisors much like they are in college. This will help remove any sort of confusion when a student is in need of emotional support. In most cases there are more qualified staff members to turn to, such as the school social worker, psychologist and students assistance counselor.

Health Curriculum Overhaul

We would like to play a role in adapting the health curriculum so there is a stronger focus on mental health. To do this we would like to get a member of ESI on the subcommittee on health and wellness through the Portsmouth School Committee. Our goal is to ensure that Portsmouth is reaching all of the standards of mental health curriculum from the Rhode Island Department of Educations Comprehensive Health Instructional Outcomes as well as the Rules and Regulations for school health programs.

Parent/Guardian Notification

Our group would also like to see a more clear policy established to ensure that parents are immediately notified when there is some kind of disciplinary or other issues.
This will ensure that a parent or guardian is part of the process to ensure their child is protected and supported.

School Based Mentorship Program

The power of mentorship is a powerful thing, especially with youth, and that can be found in the research that has been done. Our group has had a mentor that has helped to guide us along the way in creating and spread our message.
Because of this we would like to see a new staff member put into the schools labeled the Mentorship Director. This position would be there to meet with students all day every day to provide support in numerous ways. Such as through public speaking, interviewing skills and social support.
The program would also utilize local college students that need their community service hours to form mentorship groups after school with high school students.
This is a program that is still in development and we hope to complete within the school year.

Mental Health Mondays

We are working with the Portsmouth High School to start an initiative called Mental Health Monday’s. Every Monday on the announcements we would give a fact or something along those lines in regard to teen mental health.
We could also use this opportunity to let the students know who in the school there is to talk to and where they are located. This would help raise awareness about how serious the matter is and lets them know they are not alone.
We can use Mental Health Monday’s to make students and staff aware of the community resources that are available as well.
This idea is still in development and we will continue to work on how to best utilize it.

Restorative Practice in Advisories

To assist in more quickly integrating restorative practice into the school system we would like to start running once weekly circles during the advisory period.
Our group regularly uses high low circles so we can discuss the things that are going on in our lives.
Using these circles in advisory will help create a stronger bond between students and the staff member they will be with for their four-year high school career. Circles and restorative practice help to develop strong bonds and relationships between peers and the teacher.
This makes advisors another place for students to turn to if they are in distress, and another point for staff members to identify youth that may be at risk.

Sports Leagues Integration

We would like to work with Pop Warner to possibly visit some practices and introduce circles to children through all age ranges of the Portsmouth Community.
In addition to this we would like all high school sports coaches to be trained in the warning signs just like teachers are. We would like to see it be made a requirement before a coach can begin working each season.
Running some training for Pop Warner volunteer coaches may be something we look into as well.

Crisis Text Line Campaign

We are working on running a campaign at schools and other community areas to encourage teens and other members of the community to add the Crisis Text Line into their phone contact. The Text Line is a 24/7 hotline that anyone can reach out to if they are in crisis or need someone to talk to.
The number is 741-741 and you can text any word to start a conversation.
To encourage students to do this we will enter those that put the number in their phone into a raffle for a gift card or some other prize.
The Portsmouth High School is in the process of utilizing the Sandy Hook Promise resources to introduce a separate crisis line to students.

Conclusion

Our group hopes to continue to make a positive change in the social emotional support that is available to every student in this community and across the state and nation.
We are moving forward with Senator Euer and Seveney to put forth legislation to help create a strong support system for the entire state of Rhode Island.
We strongly believe that we must continue to have an open line of communication with all community stakeholders and the school system. We strive to build partnerships between members because we need everyone as an ally.