By Kamela Patton
Collier County Public Schools superintendent
Collier County Sheriff
CEO, David Lawrence Center
The tragic events occurring at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last December prompted school districts across the nation to carefully examine their school safety policies, procedures and protocols. We did that here in Collier County. as you know, responding accordingly with some security enhancements and a comprehensive awareness campaign.
Collier County Public Schools, working cooperatively with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, produced a school safety video which was shown to all school district employees. The video format made it possible for everyone to hear the same exact message delivered with one voice.
As a next step, the focus turned to prevention.
To ensure that all school district employees are keenly aware of the warning signs and prepared to act on them, the video format was again chosen to be the means of delivery for this important message. Working this time with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the David Lawrence Center, a mental health awareness video was produced to be shown to all employees during May, National Mental Health Awareness Month. It outlines conditions which disrupt a student’s mood, thinking and ability to relate to others with the caution that, when these become persistent and consistent, there is reason to be concerned.
Parents and community members, please know that we are in the process of producing a mental health awareness video that will be especially helpful for you. We are also building a mental health section on the school district website which will link to resources and services available in our county. We will be sharing information regarding both the video and website enhancement at school open houses in the fall.
From the Collier County Public Schools perspective, the fact that approximately 20 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. experience signs and symptoms of a mental health problem, and the fact that 5 percent experience extreme functional impairment, emphasize the need for early intervention.
The David Lawrence Center emphasizes the need for early identification of mental health problems and the importance of appropriate intervention to reduce the risk of suicide, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues which can arise from being the victim of bullying; further, half of all adults who have a serious mental illness experience symptoms before the age of 14.
The overall content of this mental health awareness video produced for viewing by staff outlines common warning signs of mental health problems based upon the student’s age and provides steps for intervening. For example, with young children, teachers and parents may see sudden changes in behavior such as an onset of tantrums, extreme anxiety when separating from parents or an abrupt appearance of fears.
For any age level, sudden extremes in behavior such as a drop in grades, withdrawal, disinterest in friends, changes in eating and sleeping habits, or hard-to-explain negative behavior would be causes for concern.
Recognition is the first step, followed by interventions such as counseling, the development of positive behavior intervention plans, parent consultation, and collaboration with community mental health services providers.
The primary factor to consider when determining the significance of these changes is that they are not just temporary occurrences but are persistent over time and consistent across settings — school and home, for example.
The video underscores the need for early intervention, explaining that it can lead to a range of positive outcomes including higher rates of school completion, increased levels of academic achievement, a reduction of adolescent problem behaviors and lower rates of felony arrests and convictions.
From the Sheriff’s Office perspective. the video explains that the FBI and Secret Service have identified common characteristics, warning signs and risk factors among students who have engaged in school shootings. This information is shared in the video.
The video asks the viewer, “What do you do if you happen to recognize warning signs?” They are told that school counselors are the first line of contact for anyone who believes a student is showing signs or may be in crisis.
The video stresses that intervention requires the combined efforts of teachers, parents, student support personnel, community resources and certainly the student.
“By recognizing the warning signs and intervening through your school counselor, you can make a difference in the lives of our students,” says narrator Peter Thomas.
The video concludes with a caution by Thomas: “Please do not ignore the warning signs take action now. Later may be too late.”
Our hope is that the message resonates with everyone who views this video and that, because of the video’s message, we will make a difference in our students’ lives.