Palo Alto council to discuss youth well-being

Project Safety Net report details next steps for city, schools

The "best collective thinking of local and national experts" on how to prevent teen suicide will be presented to the Palo Alto City Council Monday night.

Council members will discuss a 68-page document explaining the community's past and future response to five suicides by local teens that took place at the Caltrain tracks between May 2009 and January.

The deaths included three students at Gunn High School, a 13-year-old who was about to enter Gunn as a freshman, and a 2008 graduate of the school whose family said he had been under treatment for mental illness.

Youth well-being is one of the council's top five priorities for 2010.

The report to be presented Monday is the work of a committee -- composed of school, city, medical and community agency staff members -- known as Project Safety Net. It was co-chaired by city Recreation Division Manager Rob De Geus and Palo Alto school district Student Services Director Carol Zepecki, who retired June 30.

"The report represents a beginning rather than an end," De Geus said Thursday.

"It's very much a check-in with the City Council to let them and the community know about how we as a community have responded to the tragic set of events we've all experienced here."

Project Safety Net recommends continuing "Track Watch," a program in which volunteers sit by the rails during hours that trains run, through the 2010-11 school year.

Suggestions also include training school staff and youth-serving agencies in suicide-prevention strategies, specifically the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) method that has been used at Foothill College and Stanford University.

The committee also recommends that school and community groups implement a comprehensive youth program known as Project Cornerstone's 41 Developmental Assets, as well as peer-counseling programs and other school-based mental health efforts.

It proposes that the school district and the city assign a senior-level administrator to see that the recommendations are carried out.

Following the second suicide in June 2009, school officials teamed with the city and many community groups to try to build a coordinated response, resulting in Project Safety Net. The report to be presented Monday was prepared by the project's 14-member executive committee.

The group consulted with Stanford University faculty and other national experts about the best strategies to respond to a "suicide cluster" in a community.

"The report represents the best collective thinking of local and national experts, Palo Alto community leaders, parents and students on how we as a community should proceed," the document states.

Besides school and city officials, Project Safety Net had wide participation from parents, physicians, community and religious groups.

The group's stated mission is "to develop and implement an effective, comprehensive community-based mental health plan for overall youth well-being in Palo Alto."

The Palo Alto Board of Education heard a presentation from Project Safety Net in May and voted to adopt Project Cornerstone's 41 Developmental Assets.

Board members will have the full report in hand when they hold their annual two-day retreat tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2 and Aug. 3.

On Monday, the Council will be asked to refer the report to its Policy and Services Committee to discuss policy implications for the city, De Geus said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 16, 2010 at 11:20 am

One thing that would really help is a guide of activities for youth in Palo Alto. Teens don't just need school, sport and other challenging extra curricula activities, but hangout space and time, fun with friends, and mentors who are interested in them as people not for their potential. Youth clubs in churches, places that welcome teens - particularly late in the evening at weekends and during the summer - are hard to find for kids. A published guide/database/website guide which is regularly updated and easily accessible to teens and parents would give teens a great start in finding somewhere to go in their free time. (The Enjoy catalog is not much help).

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

I agree that a guide of activities would be great and may I also recommend that more activities and gathering spaces that promote non-competitive "hanging out" need to be created? How many spaces besides malls and shopping center parking lots are there in Palo Alto? I would venture to guess that there are too few. I have a second home in a community down on the central coast which only has 6,000 full time residents and a much smaller teen community and they have a great teen center. I am not sure what percentage of the kids use it but they also have a huge raffle every year to promote "sober graduation" whereby you can win a brand new truck. I don't see enough emphasis in our community on providing for sober and drug free alternatives. I know that there is a group of young people who are putting on their own "clean and sober" events in the local area without any help from adults. This is not church related....the young people have made a choice to no use alcohol and other drugs and are creating hella fun events to support that choice. This could serve as a good model for what kids can do if they are motivated to find alternatives to the standard fare of after-school and weekend activities which are either partying (often drinking and using when attending) or hanging at the mall and texting 24/7. Just some random thoughts.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 16, 2010 at 5:36 pm

When is this meeting going to take place and where? I think is on the city office, it says Monday, but it does not say the time. Is it open to the public. Does anybody know? let me know. Thanks.

Like this comment
Posted by Chris Kenrick, Palo Alto Weekly staff
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 17, 2010 at 1:19 am

Gunn Parent,
The City Council meeting is Monday at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Here's a link to the report:Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 17, 2010 at 11:55 am

The City Council meeting normally starts with "Oral Communications" which if started on time takes up the first half hour (until 7:30) If you don't wish to wait around until then for the first agenda item (there are usually multiple items....I have had the item that I was there for not come up until after 11pm!). Be prepared for a long evening. I don't think it possible that the whole evening will be devoted to that report. The other alternative is to stay home and watch the meeting on the cable broadcast. That is the kinder gentler way. You may be able to get an idea of where on the agenda this item will be by watching the meeting progress and then you can go down to the council chambers (in the back of city hall on the ground floor) to hear the report discussed in person.

Like this comment
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2010 at 2:49 pm

All of which has nothing to do with suicide or mental illness.

Look at your statements. That's about youth activities, which if you think has a correlation with suicide you are sadly mistaken.

Like this comment
Posted by Listener
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Gunn Parent. The Monday night Council (tentative) Agenda is on page 13 of the July 16 issue of the Palo Alto Weekly. The item you're referring to is number 6. Of course it could be shifted but looking at the other items, it seems unlikely this time.

Unfortunately there's no way of knowing how long each item will take or if it will be shifted to a later time or continued to a later date.

The Weekly (almost) always prints the agenda - usually in the first section - sometimes in the second. Also you can listen to KZSU 90.1 FM for a broadcast of the meeting if you don't have cable.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 5, 2010 at 3:56 pm

This another ridiculous way to shove things under the rug. We need to target the individual needs. We don't need some "strategy set" like our railroad security that will do nothing to affect the CORE of the problem. The administration is has a horrible case of pig-headed tunnel vision. First, they refuse to took because it's "too soon", then they make a huge decision and refuse to hear others' takes on it. Good luck with that, PAUSD.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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