As we watch the latest news of terror unfold in communities where mental health issues lie at the base of many of these tragedies, I am reminded of a time when I was aware we had escaped the untold horrors of one such incident.
I was one of those who attended a Communities In Schools ‘Campus Chat,’ where community participants had the privilege of sharing lunch in a high school with at risk kids whose lives had been turned around with the help of CIS campus staff.
These were remarkable kids who often had the worst circumstances thrust upon them at tender ages, but also those who had what we would have thought was somewhat normal family situations that covered up abuse, neglect, etc. Misery does not discriminate on whose lives it tatters.
There were several students with smiling faces present who proudly shared their stories of new plans to be the first to go to college in their family. Prior to having a CIS staff friend and mentors provided through CIS, they had never considered this an option or signed up for the SAT or ACT entrance exams or knew how to pursue a path in what had seemed to be unreachable dreams. It took someone who believed in them and helped them each step along the way.
Over 80% of CIS staff have masters degrees in counseling or social work and are hired by contract by a school district at less than starting teacher salaries. They have the latitude to help students beyond what school employees can offer: home visits, picking up kids when they have no way to get to school, when they need to see a doctor, in need of a pair of shoes or glasses, even helping get utilities back on in the home! CIS is the nations’ number one dropout prevention program, and our local program has received national recognition in beginning a program for alumni (after high school program). These alumni return to become mentors to those in our school districts.
The drop-out rate of those who receive CIS services are amazing-98% remain in school and 100% graduate or received a GED! Yet, sadly, one of our local school districts has not taken full advantage of this program.
Back to that day, one young man stood out in that he was not smiling, with eyes turned down. When it was his turn to speak, he related his gratitude to CIS campus staff who befriended him and helped him get to a doctor for medication. He told us that it had been his intent to ‘blow up the school’; that he worked with explosives and knew how to do that. Often there is a tie between ‘home grown terrorists’ and their intent to commit suicide.
Very sadly, in the 2016-17 school year, our county lost 7 precious teens to suicide.
CIS worked with the McKenna Foundation and the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation to fund and begin a program to identify and address suicide prevention. More than 5,200 students in one grade level from NBISD and CISD schools received the suicide prevention program in their classroom and out of that number, 708 (13.6%) of students were identified as “at critical risk” of suicide.
Thankfully, each one of these students was interviewed by licensed counselors or social workers to ensure their safety and to assess the next step.
Parents were called and the team worked in collaboration with school counselors and administrators to ensure that not one of these students would slip through the cracks as supportive services and therapeutic counseling were provided for them through nonprofit counseling agencies in town to provide services to these youth including Connections Individual & Family Services, River City Advocacy, and the Comal County Crisis Center.
Yes, it can happen here, but because of CIS and their ability to network and reach many “unreachable” kids, our community is safer, our children are happier and more successful, our courts have less youth problems, and our future is much brighter.