The following e-mail message was sent from the principal of Fairfax County’s W.T. Woodson High School to parents on April 11, discussing the school’s actions following a series of suicides at the school. The message came ahead of the school’s spring break and a day before The Washington Post published a story about the suicides of six Woodson students in the past three years and the effects the suicides have had on their families and the school community.
Dear Woodson Families,
We are deeply committed to supporting our students and families who may continue to have concerns following the losses our community has experienced. As you know, we hosted a community event on March 5th where families were encouraged to share concerns and provide us feedback. We immediately reviewed the suggestions that were turned in and made contact the following day with students and parents who requested clinical support. In addition, we looked at every suggestion for ideas that could be implemented in the short term while considering other ideas, including hosting a Teen Summit, that could set in motion long term FCPS changes. I also want to let you know about actions we have been taking at Woodson to support our students.
First, school counselors, psychologists, and social workers have been visiting English classes this week and will again following spring break to share information with students and address some of the issues, concerns and questions that were shared with us from the March 5 meeting. This is providing an opportunity for the mental health team to reintroduce themselves to students, to let students know where they are located in the building, and to provide examples of when students might want to meet with one of them.
The following points are being communicated to the students during these class visits:
■Any student can see a counselor, psychologist, or social worker during the school day.
■ If there is a safety concern, the staff will work with the student to contact parents or guardians. Nothing will be done without a student’s awareness, but it’s important to note that this information cannot be kept confidential.
■ What is shared with a school counselor will not be included in letters of recommendation to colleges unless a student requests that the information be shared/included.
■ If a student shares information about his or her own drug or alcohol use or that of a friend, we will work with the student or his or her friend to get them help.
■ If a student is having a problem, we encourage the student to come talk to us.
■ Our counselors, psychologists, and social workers are here to support and help our students.
In addition to sharing information with students, the staff is also asking students to provide feedback on the following two questions to help identify and address any barriers — real or perceived — to students receiving support at the school:
1. Are there any obstacles that prevent you or other students from talking to the school counselor, psychologist, or social worker if you need help? If so, what are they?
2. What can school staff do to help students feel more comfortable approaching the school counselor, psychologist, or social worker?
Second, our school counselors will be meeting individually with all seniors in the coming months. At that time, the counselors will ask about student plans after high school and, as leaders in the school, ask them to provide feedback about their experience at Woodson and seek their ideas about what teachers and other adults in their lives could do to help support students during the high school years.
Third, I will continue to hold monthly parent coffees and will be happy to invite a member of the clinical team to answer parent questions.
Finally, the responses to the blue cards collected at the March 5 meeting, and subsequent conversations I have had with parents and various community partners, including Community of Solutions, have been provided to Dr. Garza and the individuals who are planning the FCPS Teen Resiliency Summit, which is planned for May 17, 2014 at Hayfield Secondary School. Many of the topics and sessions have been developed based on Woodson parent and student feedback and we hope you will be able to attend. I will provide additional information about the Summit as the details are finalized.
As you know, schools will be closed from April 14 through 18 for spring break. If you have any concerns about your child while schools are closed, there are community resources that are available to support you. Crisis Link (703-527-4077) is staffed with professionals who are able to consult with families about any mental health concerns. Additional resources are available at: http://www.fcps.edu/dss/ips/emergency-info/index.shtml. During normal school hours, school counselors, school psychologists, and school social workers continue to be available to support students and families.
I hope that you and your family have a restful and wonderful spring break.