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Empowering Students: High Schooler’s Mission to Prevent Tragedies

Recent data show that instances of bullying were nearly cut in half over the last several years.

But there’s still plenty for districts to worry about when it comes to student safety, both inside the classroom and out.

As Mark Keierleber highlights in The 74, findings released this summer by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 12 percent of public schools reported daily or weekly instances of bullying in their schools during the 2015-2016 school year. That’s down from 23 percent in 2009-2010.

Meanwhile, instances of cyberbullying reported in schools increased from nearly 8 percent in 2009-2010 to 12 percent in 2015-2016.

But, this increase in cyberbullying pales in comparison to the troubling spike in childhood suicides and suicide attempts over the last decade. As we noted in a previous article about National Suicide Prevention Week, suicides among 10- to 14-year-olds and cases of self-harm among school-age children have doubled since 2007.

As school districts across the country have discovered, there’s no silver bullet for preventing student suicide. Whether through improved counseling programs, better teacher and staff training, monitoring of student social media, or a host of other strategies, school leaders are doing everything in their power to help keep their students safe.

Despite these efforts, one Illinois teenager says schools have largely ignored a key resource in school safety and suicide prevention: other students.

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Student-led suicide prevention

In August, Madie Adams, a sophomore at Washington Community High School lost a friend to suicide. Since then, reports the Washington Times-Reporter, Adams has been on a mission to transform her local district’s approach to student suicide awareness and prevention.

That strategy must start and end with students, Adams recently told her local school board:

“We can’t deny the existence of bullying and mental health challenges inside and outside these walls. What we can do is find ways to better equip and support the true first responders…students.”

Adams proposed a new approach that empowers students to support fellow students, including giving them safe, private ways to report potential incidents or personal problems.  “Students feel intimidated and anxious about it,” she said. “The most successful long-term solutions must be bottom up, not top down.”

Empowering students, saving lives

Adams suggested that the school board update a form on the district’s website that allows students to anonymously report bullying incidents. The updated form would also allow students to request meetings with counselors without having to broach the topic in public settings, such as classrooms. Adams said bringing issues up in class often leads to uncomfortable questions that many students want to avoid.

At Temecula Valley School District (TVUSD) in California, administrators say a similar approach may well have saved two students’ lives. When classmates heard their friends talking about suicide, they reached out through a secure button on the school district website, called Report Bullying, to notify administrators.

The administrator in charge of the program was immediately notified through an alert on her smartphone and contacted the school resource office, who enacted an established protocol for parent intervention.

In addition to better reporting and communication tools, Adams recommends better training for students and putting more emphasis in schools on building trust between students and school leaders.

As she told the Washington Times-Reporter:

“This has been a difficult, emotional experience, and I’m hoping for the best with my proposals. I’m doing this to support my friend. My family and my friend’s family are supporting me.”

How does your school or district empower students to help in suicide prevention? What tools do you have in place to make suicide reporting safe and anonymous? Tell us in the comments.