At its Sept. 12 meeting, the Martinsville City School Board heard about upcoming preparations for National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Bully Prevention Month, and Red Ribbon Week.
Dr. Travis Worrell, school psychologist for the school division, delivered a presentation on the efforts being made by the city schools and beyond to help raise awareness for mental health and suicide in the community.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for school aged children. Worrell said that there are no limits to who can be affected by suicide.
“Suicide knows no boundaries. It affects young people, old people, all communities and we know that when it does happen it does rip through our communities”, he said. “By now, most everybody in the room has probably been affected in some way.”
Worrell stressed the purpose of National Suicide Prevention Awareness month, which is in September, noting that the month is about encouraging people to reach out for help and to look out for others.
“We know that there are certain things that can lead to suicide. We know that there are certain risk factors, certain signs that people show, and this month is all about awareness by raising awareness and kind of taking the taboo off the subject,” he said.
During COVID-19, the city schools used mental health “temperature checks” that were sent home to students periodically. These screenings used age-appropriate language and pictures to check in on students’ mental health.
“The response was amazing. In fact, some of those kids came back and they said, ‘We really need to talk to somebody.’ We were able to get the school counselors in there to talk with those kids right away,” Worrell said.
In July, the US launched the 988 number as a mental health crisis line, operating as an alternative to 911.
“For so long, if there was an emergency 911 was our only response and that led law enforcement to encounter people with mental health problems and substance abuse issues, and that was often a tragic ending,” Worrell said.
He detailed the plans that are in place, and the actions that are already being taken, to help prevent suicide in the community, starting in the schools. Following the state’s guidance to increase mental health awareness measures, he said the schools will begin to conduct mental health screenings starting this week.
“Just like for a long time we’ve been screening for reading issues, we’ve been screening for speech problems, we’ve been screening for vision issues, we’re now going to be screening for mental health problems,” he said.
This universal screener, distributed by the state of Virginia, is funded by the CARES Act.
Worrell offered examples of school counselors’ efforts to help raise awareness.
For example, at Martinsville High School, Kristen Scott has created a wall for students to place sticky notes stating what they’re excited for and what keeps them going. Scott also is using the school’s social media outlets to provide access to mental health resources. These resources include ways to contact counselors. Specific counselors can be found, such as Christian counselors and counselors that specialize in LGBT issues.
“That’s what this month is about, letting people know that there’s help available, that there’s a system in place to help you,” Worrell said.
At Martinsville Middle School, Alysa Stokes has been handing out pamphlets and making sure that students are aware of the 988 help line.
Helen Martin and Marla Perry have developed an age-appropriate PowerPoint to help students attending Albert Harris Elementary School learn how to identify their feelings and reach out.
Worrell said there also is a need to look out for the adults in the community.
“The best advice for adults is to let people know that they’re important. Let people know that they’re loved, and they’re cared for and that they’re valuable,” he said.
The board also heard a presentation from Dr. Cynthia Tarpley, executive director of Special Education & Student Services, on Bully Prevention Month and Red Ribbon Week, both of which are in October.
Each school has plans for the month to bring awareness to bullying and teach preventative measures.
At Clearview Early Learning Center, teachers are incorporating social skills into students’ learning through the use of stories and puppets. At Patrick Henry Elementary School, students are being taught about bullying, and also will engage in an anti-bullying assembly and a spirit week. At Albert Harris Elementary School, information is being sent out to students to encourage kindness. Students also are creating and displaying posters on kindness and bullying prevention.
Martinsville Middle School students have been informed of bullying procedures during grade level expectations meetings. Bully instances are documented and logged by the school. Students are reminded of the kinds of bullying and how to address it.
And in Martinsville High School, student ambassadors are being used to help ensure that no students feel left out. Students are being taught how to stop bullying when they see it happening. Anti-bullying messages are included in school emails, social media posts, and displayed around the school. The school also implemented an anonymous bullying reporting system.
City schools also will observe Red Ribbon Week, which encourages students to live drug-free lives. Students at many schools will be taking drug-free pledges and engaging in a spirit week.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard Superintendent Zeb Talley’s report, which included information about increased safety measures in the schools and talks with Patrick & Henry Community College to increase Career and Technical Education programs.
*Approved the retention of legal counsel to advise the board in matters pertaining to reversion as presented.
*Approved the Aug. 8 minutes as presented.
*Approved the financial report as presented.
*Approved the 2022-2023 student handbook as presented.
*Approved the personnel report as presented.