After suicides, mental health experts to join Woodson High staff

A team of mental health experts will join the faculty at Woodson High School to support students and identify struggling teens, the Fairfax County school system announced Friday.

In a letter to parents, assistant superintendent Douglas Tyson, the administrator who oversees Woodson, wrote that the “school response team” will work on student outreach and suicide prevention programs.

Six Woodson students have died from suicide in the last three years, including two in February who died a day apart. The deaths left the Fairfax school reeling and parents demanded action from the administration. The plan announced by Tyson represents the newest efforts from the school system as leaders seek to address the persistent problem of teen stress and mental health awareness.

“The health and well being of our students is mission critical,” Tyson wrote. “We are committed to mobilizing any necessary resources to support the great students at Woodson High School.”

The new team includes Dan Meier, a retired administrator who previously served as principal of Robinson secondary school. Meier, who left Fairfax last year, had also served as a counselor and guidance director. Also joining Woodson are John Todd, a school psychologist with 20 years of experience, Eileen Goldschmidt, a former school psychologist of the year winner, and Peggy Perry, a veteran school counselor who once served as director of student services.

Tyson wrote that the new team will work with teens who may be struggling in the classroom or dealing with social and emotional problems to “identify and refer students for assistance who may be at high risk for self-harm.”

The team will help promote a positive and caring environment for the students, Tyson wrote.

“The new school support team will work to ensure that trained professional staff are available at Woodson to expeditiously handle the evaluation of at-risk students and help families connect to appropriate support services,” Tyson wrote. “We understand that there are no quick fixes to the issues that we are facing, but we are in this together with you for the long term and will continue to strengthen the response and outreach efforts.”

Woodson parents have also been encouraged to attend a program on April 29 at Frost Middle School on “living with teens.” The speaker will be Lizbeth Moses, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in treating anxiety, depression and grief.

In May, the school system will host a community-wide teen stress summit at Hayfield Secondary School. The event will allow parents to learn from mental health experts on how to help teens build resilience.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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