In an attempt to bring a measure of familiarity to students who are grieving the death of their 13-year-old classmate, Terman Middle School teachers will meet with their former and current students at a special meeting this evening, Aug. 24, at 5:30 p.m.
The girl's suicide last Friday came just days before her classmates were to transition from the middle school to Henry M. Gunn High School, whose school year begins tomorrow.
School officials hope tonight's meeting and additional measures will ease the transition, according to Kevin Skelly, Palo Alto Unified School District superintendent. The district has sent notices to families of Terman students about tonight's meeting, he said.
"Clearly we have a case of suicide clusters here. Our balancing issue is to take care of the kids," he said.
A retired Terman counselor met with students all day today at the school and will meet with the transitioning students at Gunn High School tomorrow, Noreen Likins, Gunn's principal, said. Facebook messages about the counseling sessions were sent out today, she added.
Likins said Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) counselors and grief counselors from KARA will help other Gunn students for whom the 13-year-old's death might stir up feelings of last spring's suicide death of a classmate.
Phillipe Rey, executive director of Adolescent Counseling Services, which provides crisis and mental health counseling in Palo Alto schools, said in a letter to the community that his staff met with the Gunn administration today to strategize how best to serve students' needs on opening day.
"Changes and losses are inherent parts of what it means to be human and to live in this world of ours.
"In order to help us cope with it all, we need to remind ourselves and our family that love, compassion, empathy and unconditional acceptance of what and who we are ... are the only way to live and breathe and think -- even if and when we and/or our loved ones are going through painful and difficult phases in their lives that we do not want to recognize, or even accept," he wrote.
Skelly said no memorial site is planned at Terman or Gunn. The district wants to be respectful of the community's loss, but careful not to sensationalize the girl's death or cause other mentally ill students to take their lives, he said.
"Our challenge is supporting the kids in grieving but not over-dramatizing or making it seem like a normal behavior. ... We're at a dangerous point right now," he said.
He emphasized the district will continue last spring's efforts to break the stigma of mental illness and educate parents and students about such illnesses as the root causes of suicide, he said.
"We need to increase communication with parents around mental illness. We need to make sure parents are educated. Identifying who's at risk is difficult," Skelly said. Mental health issues are "very elusive" behaviors that "defy easy solution," he added.
In his 25 years in education, Skelly said he has come to understand Palo Alto's crisis as a community is not so unusual. Quoting from a book on clusters he had on his desk, Skelly said suicide clusters are more common than one generally knows. He rattled off a list of communities, schools, and hospital settings where clusters have occurred around the nation.
"The more I read and the more I learn, I'm not terribly surprised," he said.
Terry Godfrey, president of the Palo Alto PTA, said the recent cluster of deaths has stunned her. Two other students killed themselves by jumping in front of a train at East Meadow Drive in May and June.
"We value our kids. It's not the kind of thing you expect to see three times over the summer," she said.
The PTA will hold a program on middle- and high-school stress in conjunction with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital on Oct. 21 at Cubberley Community Center. The time will be announced later, she said.
Godfrey said the Packard workshop will focus on stress reduction "and removing the stigma of having to be perfect and the stigma of depression."
Last year's series of lectures on recognizing and reducing bullying and other issues will continue this school year, she said.
on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:37 pm
on Aug 25, 2009 at 10:37 pm
Well... no. Stanford University, Palo Alto, status, success, and over-thinking doesn't have anything to do with this.
There are many studies on suicide clusters. It happens in all types of communities: rich, working class, and poor. Educated and uneducated. City and rural. All races. It happened in rural villages in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. East San Jose had a cluster several years ago. Palo Alto gets attention because it's Palo Alto, but that's all.
It's a sad thing for the poor kids and their families. I live a block from the Meadow crossing. Everyone here is sorry for them. The community will do everything it can to protect our kids.