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Johnson County Superintendents: Suicide Prevention Requires Community Support

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There's concern over an uptick in teen suicides in Johnson County.

By working with neighboring school districts and community health partners, Olathe Superintendent John Allison thinks Johnson County might actually be able to change the conversation on teen suicide.

“Each of the Johnson County school districts has taken a little different approach,” Allison says. “I think that’s been key to our conversation that started last spring, is to learn from each other to try to see what’s worked and at the same time to blend our limited resources to best support each other.”

Superintendents in Blue Valley, De Soto, Gardner Edgerton, Shawnee Mission, Spring Hill and Olathe school districts have agreed to work together and with Johnson County Mental Health to address teen suicide as a community issue.

The agreement comes after an uptick in the number of teen suicides — although definitive numbers are hard to come by — in Johnson County. 

Olathe implemented a new social-emotional learning curriculum last year. The district is using a tool called Panorama to measure how students feel about teaching and learning in their school. It’s a survey that asks questions like, “If you walked into class upset, how concerned would your teacher be?”

Allison says the feedback the district gets from Panorama will help them determine whether students feel supported at school.

“One of the things we’re taking a look at is resiliency. We can’t just take for granted that students, when they experience conflict, know how to adapt and deal with it,” Allison says.

Allison thinks taking a community-based approach to preventing teen suicide will help connect families with resources schools just aren’t able to provide.

“I’ve had counselors tell me, ‘I feel comfortable counseling students around, maybe, parents going through a divorce, but when it really gets into clinical issues that the kids have, I’m not sure I’m the right person to do that,’” he says.

All six school districts are planning activities to raise awareness for National Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 9-14.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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