School district increases counseling support at Gunn

City, partner agencies respond to apparent Caltrain suicide

Editor's note: Since this article was posted, the identity of the young man has been released by the Santa Clara County coroner.

In the wake of an apparent suicide at the Charleston Road train crossing this week, the Palo Alto school district and its partners immediately brought in extra counseling support to Gunn High School due to its recent history with such tragedy, district staff said.

A young man, whose identity has not yet been disclosed by the county coroner, was killed by a southbound train around 5:40 p.m. on Wednesday. The San Mateo County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident in coordination with the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner.

Staff from the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services and grief counseling nonprofit Kara, along with Shashank Joshi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University Medical Center, were on campus all day Thursday to offer support to students, faculty and staff. They met with students and some staff members, said district spokeswoman Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, and will continue to be available in the coming days.

"It really helped both the counselors and some faculty members understand – here's how you can talk with and support students without overdoing it," Superintendent Max McGee said. "Routine is important as well as is listening and interacting with students."

The two counseling agencies are members of the mental health and youth well-being coalition Project Safety Net, and Joshi is a member of its leadership team. The broad collaborative, bringing together city, schools, nonprofits, faith agencies and medical professionals, was formed in response to a cluster of teen suicides in 2009 and 2010. Numerous student efforts sprang up at the time, including website "Henry M. Gunn Gives Me Hope" (HMGGMH), which was created by a Gunn senior to offer a place for students, parents, teachers and alumni to post and share positive thoughts.

Another student group, ROCK (Reach Out, Care, Know), also set up a blog on Tumblr where students can post their thoughts and questions anonymously.

The Health Care Alliance for Response to Adolescent Depression (HEARD), a health-care-provider coalition, was also formed to foster collaboration among primary-care, mental-health and education workers to address depression among teens. Read a HEARD essay on how to help people in crisis.

For many, McGee said, the news Wednesday evening reawakened very recent pain from those years.

"The memory, even though it was several years ago, is still fresh," McGee said.

McGee sent a message to Palo Alto Unified parents and staff Thursday morning to let them know what had happened and to provide information on suicide prevention, care and resources. McGee said that police believe the young man was not a current Palo Alto Unified student.

McGee said that when he heard about a 17-year-old Woodside girl's death by suicide on Tuesday, he sent a message to all high school principals and guidance counselors saying: "Let's be extra vigilant. Things like that worry us all."

The City of Palo Alto also announced Thursday that as soon as that afternoon, increased numbers of track guards would be stationed at the Churchill Avenue, Charleston Road and East Meadow Drive train crossings.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the young man's family and friends during this difficult time," Mayor Nancy Shepherd said in a statement. "As a community, it reinforces the importance of our continued collaborative work to create safe and welcoming schools, and a community culture that offers support, services and hope for all."

The City Council will also adopt a proclamation at its meeting Monday, Oct. 20, in partnership with the school district, Project Safety Net, the district's Safe and Welcoming Schools Committee and the Palo Alto Youth Council to honor Oct. 23 as Unity Day. October is National Bully Prevention Month, and the city plans to join the school district in raising awareness about the issue. The proclamation ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

The council's Policy and Services Committee is also set to hear an update on Project Safety Net at its meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Palo Alto Police Lt. Zach Perron said the department is increasing patrol checks along the Caltrain right-of-way and urged community members to immediately report any suspicious behavior or any person loitering near the tracks.

"It's been a tremendous outpouring of support and an opportunity to learn from one another and for one another," McGee told the Weekly Thursday. "We're going to continue this tomorrow (and) as long as need be."

There Is Help

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can also call 1-855-278-4204.

Caltrain recently launched a website with resources for individuals and those seeking to learn more about mental illness and suicide.

Read more: How to help those in crisis

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3 people like this
Posted by Sea REDDY
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2014 at 10:44 am

Sea REDDY is a registered user.

Let us pray that our children have avenues to let someone know.

Please talk to someone about what you are thinking.

It is horrible to lose anyone let alone an youngster.

We need you here!


3 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2014 at 10:58 am

I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy. It is very important to take seriously community-building efforts, like hosting kids at your home or having a block party, so that children feel surrounded by warm, caring people they know. We can all use more community.

[Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by Rose A
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

I am very sorry to hear about these recent deaths. My thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased. I'm very sorry for your losses. Peace be with you.

33 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 17, 2014 at 12:52 pm

We don't know the reasons for the suicide in this case and all I know is what the article states. But depression leading to suicide can be a result of situational stress and depression rather than mental illness/physical attributes.

My dysfunctional family life of my verbally abusive dad and controlling mom (plus them favoring my brother) lead me to a feeling of worthlessness and I withdrew from friends and considered suicide in high school. I wasn't good enough because I was a "B" student with a few scattered "A"s and wasn't living up to my potential.

I advise parents to not ignore their children's moods and be sure that their children know they are always there for them. My mom knew I was depressed but did nothing, thinking hoping for improvement would be enough. Some children need guidance - they can't figure it all out themselves - they are young. A family vacation or dinners out to change the scenery is helpful for our children with the academic loads they have these days.

Students who consider suicide should remember that America is full of second, third, many, many chances. There are unparalleled opportunities in our country. There isn't only one route to success. My husband attended a public college, wasn't the smartest in his department, but has more success in his career than the rest many of those who graduated from elite and Ivy League universities. Don't fear failure - get up and try again. Had I left this world, I would not have experienced the pure joy of raising my own children.

I also hope the new School Board members understand that not everyone is academically inclined. There needs to be consistency in teaching because some teachers have expectations that are much too high.

9 people like this
Posted by barn door, horse
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Counseling support at Gunn should be better every day, not just the day after a tragedy. Counseling support at Gunn has been severely lagging for many years. There are too few adults available to be in the lives of students. There was a district committee that documented all the problems with Gunn counseling and how to improve it 2 years ago. They had 44 strategies for improvement. Very very few of them were implemented. They should ALL be implemented NOW. This is a travesty, to rush extra support there after it's happened. All these supports should have been increased in a permanent basis years ago. Parents at Gunn are going to have to stop waiting and start taking action to get extra support, the same as they have at Paly on an ongoing basis. What are we waiting for?

19 people like this
Posted by PAUSD parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 17, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Counseling support is fine and dandy but PAUSD needs to evaluate teachers and homework loads. Because our students are raised in educated families shouldn't give teachers passes to overwork them. Some teachers have a distorted view. Parents are too fearful to report bad teaching due to fear of backlash. There ought to be an anonymous way to let the IS and principals gain feedback from students and parents. Then, academic stress can be addressed. By the time a student sees a counselor, it's too late. Don't allow our children to get to the point of having to see a counselor. And most won't seek help but fall deeper into the quicksand.

1 person likes this
Posted by artbuilder
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm

[Post removed.]

9 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Since we are discussing this in a comprehensive way, I think it is important for us to remember that a teen needs to be able to have some fun times each week rather than school, homework and challenging extra curricula. It is good for a family to get out together, but I think there should also be some good old fashioned hang out time with pals.

Youth activities that do not emphasize performance, but are based on the individual, run by mentoring adults who are not parents or teachers are a great way for a teen to balance the stresses of their lives with some down time in a safe environment. Many churches have some great youth programs and are very inviting and inclusive to everyone. The youth leaders are usually well trained and experienced.

Please don't discount the great work that these youth activities do for youth and the value the programs can have in their young lives.

Posted by fine
a resident of Palo Verde

on Oct 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm

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8 people like this
Posted by Biz as Usual
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 17, 2014 at 6:05 pm

As usual with PAUSD, this is another case of too little, too late.

Like this comment
Posted by Survivor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 17, 2014 at 7:29 pm

I wish the current School Board had treated the earlier suicides as emergencies. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Quitters
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2014 at 7:41 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2014 at 8:07 pm

2014 Gunn Grad. R.I.P.

Posted by concerned parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School

on Oct 17, 2014 at 8:35 pm

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13 people like this
Posted by Former Employee
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 17, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Quite frankly, Gunn/PAUSD doesn't care about depressed students or staff. They just bring in counselors for positive press. When I worked there, the administration at the school and district levels did everything they could to push out struggling students and staff, oftentimes making the students' and staff member's lives a living hell, as if depression weren't hell already. I clearly remember a veteran teacher being labeled "crazy" by the principal at the time when he needed to take a leave of absence to get his depression under control. Someone on staff also started vicious rumors about him, so that by the time he came back, he was essentially a pariah. He retired early that year even though he was perfectly fit to continue teaching. It's a shame that mental illness carries such a stigma, and that some of the staff members in this district are so ignorant that they perpetuate that stigma. I wish they would all learn to have some compassion and take real action instead of paying lip service to the many resources in our community.

1 person likes this
Posted by very sad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2014 at 10:05 am

My condolences to the family and friends of this young man. It is very sad to hear this.

It has been repeated in the press that, though unconfirmed, that it's not a student of our district, and I am unsure about how to take this news. Is this the time to speak out about whether the student is from the district or not? What happens if there is confirmation, will Tabitha then confirm either way?

If the young man is from the district, it is particularly painful, and I'm not saying this to fault anything, but just to say it is. So, distancing ourselves from the situation seems awkward if in fact we don't know.

Like this comment
Posted by former Gunn parent
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 18, 2014 at 10:50 am

[Post removed.]

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Posted by very sad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2014 at 11:27 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by very sad
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2014 at 11:32 am

[Post removed.]

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

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