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3:35 AM Thu, Nov. 22nd

PUSD offers support after loss of student

Courier illustration

Courier illustration

PRESCOTT - The recent loss of a Prescott Unified School District student to suicide has school officials providing help for classmates to cope.

"We have a very detailed protocol - a checklist - that we are able to go to right away," Principal Mark Goligoski said, adding that parents were asked to discuss with their children the situation "as much as is comfortable" and also informed them of the array of services the school district offers to help students cope with suicide and other traumatic situations.

Following the protocol developed by West Yavapai Guidance Clinic former CEO Don Ostendorf, and available online at ycesa.com/files/Postvention.pdf, school administrators called upon resources within the district and from outside agencies to be available at the school Monday morning when students reported to class.

Goligoski said students were able to step out of their classrooms Monday and go to a designated space at the school where counselors and other support services were available.

On Tuesday, the same services were available for students who requested them, and throughout the week, students received follow-up visits to make sure they were OK.

West Yavapai Guidance Clinic is one of the outside agencies Prescott Unified School District calls to help support students after a crisis.

"What they need right after the event is some mental health coaching," said Kent Mattern, deputy chief clinical officer at West Yavapai.

Goligoski said there are indications bullying may have been a factor in the death.

"It's always a mixture of many, many factors," Mattern said.

He said indicators for suicide among children are not always as pronounced as they are for adults.

"A lot of people who complete suicide have a treatable mental issue," Mattern said. "The one with kids is a generalized anxiety disorder."

He said suicide attempts among teenagers may be triggered by seemingly inconsequential life changes like gaining or losing friends, struggling academically, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or changes with family.

"We are looking at the holistic structure," he said.

As the impact of bullying has gained nationwide attention, PUSD is taking active steps to address it, Goligoski said.

The federal government's Stop Bullying campaign defines bulling as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance."

Bullying behaviors can be repeated over time.

"Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems," according to stopbullying.gov.

Goligoski said the district has several anti-bullying approaches. Some are overt campaigns that help students identify bullying and the rights of students. Others are part of curriculum in history, English or other humanities courses, where the course material lends itself to a discussion of bullying behaviors.

Goligoski also pointed to peer efforts with groups like the National Junior Honor Society and student council, restorative justice program and Silent Witness as ways PUSD is addressing bullying and related issues.

"They are setting a tone in our school that bullying is not tolerated," he said.

Superintendent Joe Howard said the district's Character Counts programs at every school focus on building positive behavioral skills, and outside programs like the county's MATForce drug and alcohol abuse prevention program touch on bullying and related issues.

"We focus a lot on leadership and culture," Howard said.

Arizona law requires schools to take actions when students report bullying.

"Not only do we have consequences for students who violated the rules, but we have contact with the victim and the victim's parents," Goligoski said. "We understand the emotional scars that can take place with bullying."

Rhonda Orr, founder of Rhonda's Stop Bullying Foundation for Girls, said she focuses on helping girls understand that being a victim of bullying is not a choice, but it is a choice to remain victimized.

"Our program helps prevent victimhood," she said.

Orr's program focuses on helping victims become survivors and later leaders who help stop bullying.

"Start young," she said. "Start being real and start being open at a young age."

Follow reporter Les Bowen on Twitter @NewsyLesBowen. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 1110, or 928-830-9305.