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Saturday, June 25, 2022

School counselor shouted for help after buffalo shooting

by Jocelyn Gekker and Heather Hollingsworth

It seems that every school has a moment that illustrates the crisis facing America’s youth and the pressure it is putting on teachers.

For a middle school counselor in rural California, it came after a suicide prevention symposium this year, when 200 students came forward saying they needed help. There were many sixth graders.

Another school counselor in Massachusetts tells of a high school student who spent two weeks in a hospital emergency room before getting an inpatient bed in a psychiatric unit.

For many schools, last weekend’s shooting rampage in Buffalo, carried out by an 18-year-old who was flagged for making threatening remarks at his high school last year, prompted staff discussions that they should separate. How can you respond?

Robert Bardwell, director of school counseling for Tantasqua Regional High School in Fiskdale, Massachusetts, said the shootings above New York shaped how he handled a threat assessment this week. He told staff, “Don’t cross our T’s because I don’t want to be in the news in a year, or five years, saying the school didn’t do anything we should have done to stop this.”

Staff shortages and increased student mental health needs combined with widespread episodes of abuse and violence have placed extraordinary pressure on school counselors and psychologists. The Buffalo shooting highlights their concerns over their ability to support students and adequately screen those who may show the potential for violence.

When Peyton Gendron, the accused shooter in Buffalo, was asked about his plans after graduation in spring 2021 by a teacher at his Binghamton, New York, high school, he replied that he was a, according to law enforcement. wanted to commit suicide. The remarks resulted in the state police being called and a mental health evaluation conducted at a hospital, where he claimed he was joking and was cleared to attend graduation.

“I think schools are still safe. And I believe that,” said Bardwell, who is also executive director of the Massachusetts School Counselor Association. “But it also seems that more and more children are struggling. And some of those kids who struggle might do bad things.”

Experts say childhood depression and anxiety were on the rise in the years before the pandemic, and school closures and widespread social lockdowns exacerbated the problems during the pandemic. Along with the return to in-person classrooms, the number of school shootings has increased, according to experts, who say the brawls are ending in gunfire as more students bring weapons to school. Teachers say disrespect and disobedience have increased. Tempers are low and flare up fast.

“The tagline I would go with is that kids are not okay,” said psychologist Eric Merkle of Akron Public Schools in Ohio, a district of about 21,000 students, which he said is suffering from an increase in student depression, anxiety, suicide. is tackling. and substance abuse as well as aggression and violence, among other behavioral problems. “I can tell you that therapists are struggling.”

Many parents hoped that as classes reopen, the hassle of distance learning would go away. But it quickly became clear that the prolonged isolation and immersion in screen and social media had a lasting effect. Schools have become a platform where the pandemic wave is blowing.

School staff are “100% taxed,” said Jennifer Corenti, director of school counseling at Harrison High School in New Jersey, where counselors are under stress as they help students after two years of pandemic learning disruption . “Everyone. Administrators, employees. Like, there’s no one to survive. There’s no school dropout who feels dazed every day.”

Suicide risk assessments, in particular, are increasing rapidly. The 15-year-old counselor says she has done as many of them in the past three years as she did 12 years ago.

He and Merkle both said they used mass shootings in Buffalo, and another in which a 15-year-old shot four classmates in Michigan to discuss how they might have reacted.

At Livingston Middle School in rural central California, counselors have conducted suicide prevention lessons in classrooms for years. Pre-pandemic, the lessons resulted in about 30 students saying they would like to see a counselor, said Alma Lopez, the district’s counseling coordinator and one of two counselors in the middle school.

“This year I got 200 kids, which is a quarter of our student population,” she said. “It’s such a huge number. I can’t see 200 kids every week. It’s just impossible.”

She said that many of the children who sought help were from the sixth grade, who had friendship issues.

Quickly, school staff made changes, holding as many one-on-one sessions as possible, providing more group lessons on mental health, and placing passengers in every class with suicide prevention hotline numbers.

They brought back as many activities, clubs and assemblies to help the kids connect. And Lopez said she is constantly reminding her district that more support is needed, a plea echoed by her peers across the country.

Most states are struggling with mental health support in schools, according to a recent report by the Hopeful Futures Campaigns, a coalition of national mental health organizations. Some states, including West Virginia, Missouri, Texas and Georgia, have only one school psychologist for more than 4,000 students, the report said.

Lopez oversees a caseload of about 400 students at her school in Livingston, California—far more than the recommended ratio of one counselor for every 250 students by the American School Counselor Association.

“It’s a huge stress right now,” she said. Many of the students in her school are children of agricultural laborers from a community that was badly affected by the COVID-19 infection and deaths. He worries about missing something important.

“I think a lot could be lost,” she said. “If we don’t intervene in time, the issues that come with grief will become massively complicated to create additional challenges.”

Lopez and other counselors convened a discussion earlier last week about how to help students allay fears related to the buffalo shootings and whether it was safe to go to supermarkets.

Federal relief money has helped address a shortage of mental health professionals in some schools, though some have struggled to find qualified staff or use aid to train existing staff.

The challenges are magnified by the increase in gun violence on school grounds, said David Ridgeman, a criminologist and co-founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database, which maintains a national tally of instances when guns are used in schools.

According to that tally, there were 249 shootings at K-12 schools in 2021, more than double in any year since 2018, when Ridgeman started the database. So far this year there have been 122 firings.

There is also a notable difference from previous years, he said: Many of the incidents were not planned attacks, but general brawls that ended in gunfire.

Even mental health specialists outside schools are feeling the stress, said Bardwell, referring to his student with a history of mental illness who spent two weeks this year in the ER waiting to be admitted for psychiatric care.

This highlights the country’s broken health care system, he said, and shows that the state does not have enough residential mental health capacity, especially for adolescents.

It’s impossible to refer students who need outside counseling to therapists in their area, said Richard Tench, a counselor at St. Albans High School in West Virginia.

“All our referrals are full. We are on the waiting list,” he said. “If referrals are full, where do we turn?”


The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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