Bullying, Abuse, and Suicide Risk Among Students: Ignorance is Bliss for Disbelievers (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Recently, a man commented on one of my blog posts that I made last year regarding a particular school in which bullying (and worse) occurred by children and adults toward other children.  What was so shocking to me was that the man basically stated that he was physically abused by religious at a parochial school during his childhood, and he inferred that children should currently be treated more harshly (infer more abuse and violence) than what they already endure in many schools.  In responding to the man – and seeking to provide information for his understanding of the seriousness of the issue – I stated to him that bullying, abuse, and violence is extremely serious in the United States.  The United States has the highest child mortality rate of any Western country.  And, in the United States, Texas is the state with the highest single mortality rate (about 4%) of any state.

Why isn’t the American public outraged about that?!  Why do more people not stand up for and protect children, nor seek to listen to, hear, and understand them?  Why is it so easy for so many people to minimize, overlook, ignore, and discredit children?  It is no wonder that so many children and youth commit suicide when they do not receive the assistance and/or protection that they need from their families – or other adults, and then, experience bullying, abuse, and/or violence at school.  Children and youth are so vulnerable.  They are growing and developing, and are going through stages of their lives in which they are most fragile.

Too many people believe that children and youth should be harmed – and then, they call it discipline or disciplinary action.  Children and youth need support, care, kindness, understanding, and compassion.  How does American society expect children to grow and develop in a healthy manner when many of their role models, teachers, coaches, and/or other adults bully and harm them?  What is worse in a Catholic or religious faith-based school is when the expectation is that children are to be valued and appreciated, but are bullied and harmed by many of the very adults who are charged with protecting them.  The situation is not restricted to faith-based schools, but is present in all too many schools in the United States, both public and private.

I believe that much of the issue relates to the toleration, acceptance, encouragement, and promotion of violence – particularly media violence – within our culture.  So many television shows, movies, and other programs that have been deemed “entertainment” are so horrific that I have rarely watched them, now, over a period of many years.  Yet, for many people, the more violence they view, the more they want.  It is as if there is a competition in the United States in media and entertainment to produce more and more violent shows and movies.  That would not occur if people did not spend so much money to view violence, to play violent video games, to participate in sports that are violent, etc.

Thus, I have broached a few more topics about which most people do not want to contemplate, talk about, or take action to prevent or eliminate.  These are, however, issues that must be brought into the open and discussed if there is any hope for improvement in regard to them within our culture.  One person who takes his or her life due to bullying and abuse is too many.  Yet, there are dozens of children and youth who commit suicide in the United States, with such deaths continually on the rise.  Last I knew, there were about 135 reported deaths due to suicide in the United States in one recent year.  There are likely many more that are not reported.  And, many of these children and youth who commit suicide have been bullied and harmed at school, by their peers and/or teachers.

I have taken the liberty to post several links regarding children and youth who have committed suicide in such circumstances so that the man who posted his comment, saying that my article was “stupid” can have a better understanding that when someone is dead, the situation is too late to improve – and is far from “stupid.”  For this man, ignorance is bliss.  Following, therefore, are just a few of the 100s of links on the Internet (in no particular order), all of which I retrieved on April 30, 2014, related to children and youth who have committed suicide due to bullying and/or abuse experienced at school from their peers and/or teachers:

“Bullied 10-year-old girl commits suicide.” http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Girl+Commits+Suicide+On+Camera&Form=VQFRVP#view=detail&mid=7A9D5FDFA0071FC8A1657A9D5FDFA0071FC8A165

“Suicide of Amanda Todd.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Amanda_Todd

“Suicide of Phoebe Prince.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Phoebe_Prince

“Suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamey_Rodemeyer  (One of my student teaching experiences was at a school that he attended, Heim Middle School, in the Williamsville (New York) Central School District.)

“Gay Ottawa teen who killed himself was bullied: Jamie Hubley was a figure skater and the only openly gay boy in his school.”  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/gay-ottawa-teen-who-killed-himself-was-bullied-1.1009474

“Suicide of Kelly Yeomans.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelly_Yeomans

“Girl commits suicide after boyfriend sends her naked photos to fellow students, Family receives $154K from school.” http://news.asiantown.net/r/26323/Girl-commits-suici–100-e-after-boyfriend-sends-her-nak–101-d-photos-to-fellow-students–Family-receives–154K-from-school

“Girls, 12 and 14, arrested in death of bullied Florida girl who killed herself.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/10/15/girls-12-and-14-arrested-in-death-bullied-florida-girl-police-say/

“How a cell phone picture led to a girl’s suicide.”  http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/10/07/hope.witsells.story/index.html

“Georgia middle-schooler commits suicide after bullying, being called ‘snitch,’ dad says.”  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/05/17616979-georgia-middle-schooler-commits-suicide-after-bullying-being-called-snitch-dad-says?lite

“Bullying allegations probed after boy, 15, commits suicide after first day of school.”  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/08/29/bullying-allegations-probed-after-boy-15-commits-suicide-after-first-day-school/

“Anti-gay bullying cited in Georgia teen’s suicide.”  http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/anti-gay_bullying_cited_in_georgia_teens_suicide

“My bullied son’s last day on Earth.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/04/23/bullying.suicide/  (It is difficult to believe this already happened five years ago; I remember the news about it.)

“Ex-teacher gets 30 days for rape of girl, 14; judge says she was ‘older than her chronological age.’ ”  http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/ex-teacher_gets_30_days_for_sex_with_student_14_judge_says_she_was_older_th/  (I am aware that the National Organization for Women made a formal complaint against the judge in this case, desiring his removal as a result of the sentence that he gave this man.  The girl committed suicide.)

“Teacher Kidnaps, Rapes Boy.”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/video?id=7390696

“Mary Kay Letourneau.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Kay_Letourneau

“Columbine High School massacre.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

These 17 articles represent at least 29 people who died, either by suicide or homicide, in relation to bullying and/or abuse by peers, or abuse by teachers.  The articles also represent at least two other survivors of abuse who remain living.  The victims and survivors in each of these articles are reason enough why bullying and abuse must be taken more seriously, and be prevented and eliminated, especially in our schools.  Hopefully, the man who commented on a different one of my blog posts in relation to this issue no longer views it as “stupid.” 😦

As a result of the comments made by the particular man in regard to a prior post relating to these issues, I have been inspired to create a new LinkedIn group, “Stop Youth Suicide.”  I created the group today, and promoted it within 30 LinkedIn groups, and invited 70 people on LinkedIn from around the world to join.  Six fellow LinkedIn members – most of whom are mental health professionals – have already joined the group as of 5:30 PM Eastern Time today.  I have also promoted the group on Twitter, and will continue to do so.  Today, I have also gained additional followers and “likes” on Twitter as a result of creating this group.  (As of 1:30 PM Eastern Time on May 4, 2014, there are 55 members of the group!)

The comments made by the particular man – and the thoughts and attitudes of so many regarding these issues – definitely reflect the need for increased understanding, sensitivity, compassion, and support toward children and youth, especially those who are contemplate, attempt, and/or commit suicide as a result of bullying and abuse, that which is especially experienced at school from peers and adults.

“Society Must Hold Offenders Responsible, Not Punish Victims” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Mother Nature Crying (Retrieved from http://www.free-hdwallpapers.com/wallpaper/abstract/mother-nature-crying/22445, January 11, 2014)

Very often in our society, we are informed of criminal offenders who are held responsible and accountable for their actions.  There are those in our society who work hard to see to it that perpetrators of crimes are brought to justice, that they are removed from the greater society for a period of time, and so that, potentially, they do not commit the same or similar types of crimes in the future.  There are many people, such as a police officers, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges whose hearts and minds are in the right place when it comes to holding responsible and accountable those who commit crimes, particularly violent crimes, including sex crimes.

Conversely, there are also times when people who have committed crimes are not held responsible or accountable for their crimes, nor are they ever required to answer for their criminal actions.  In these situations, there may or may not be extenuating circumstances in which evidence has been removed or destroyed by the perpetrators and/or accomplices; corroboration and/or substantiation of facts regarding the crime may not be obtained; confessions of those who committed the crimes were not secured; evidence and/or facts regarding the crime were concealed or never located; and other reasons.

Sometimes, in cases involving child sexual abuse, there is the possibility that police, attorneys, prosecutors, and/or parents do not desire to place children on the stand in court to testify against the person(s) who assaulted them.  In other situations, it is possible that a particular network of people, such as athletes or fraternity brothers in a college, promote and live a culture of disrespect and/or violence, covering up for each other when sexual assaults are committed.  Or, has often occurred in the Roman Catholic Church when religious have committed sex crimes, they may be protected by higher authorities in the Church.

Many years ago, a local pediatrician in my area informed me that preschools are commonly places where young children are sexually abused.  I have always remembered that, and have often wondered why doctors do not do more to inform about this and/or take measures aimed at protecting children.  Too often, physicians are more interested in treating a problem or issue after it arises rather than seeking to inform, educate, protect, and prevent such things from occurring in the first place.

In 2007, there were two police reports made regarding a preschool teacher at Sola Fide Lutheran Church Preschool in Lawrenceville, Georgia, describing her repeated sexual abuse of children, aged 2-4, who were in her care.  Four children were identified as having been repeatedly emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by the preschool teacher.  All four children were interviewed by a special investigator with the county police department.  Out of fear, three of the four children denied any sexual abuse by the teacher.  Without corroboration, evidence, or a confession by the accused, the case was unable to be substantiated and was closed.  Without a formal charge or conviction against the teacher, the case was never made public.

One of the children who had been identified as having been abused was the school principal’s two-year-old daughter, who regularly participated in classes with the three and four-year-olds that were taught by the teacher.  In these classes, there was an assistant teacher, as well as a volunteer.  The lead teacher perpetrated the abuse that was ignored and overlooked by the other two women.  Abuse was perpetrated in the bathroom, storage room, and empty classroom in the trailer that was used for classrooms.  During the investigation, the principal destroyed evidence related to the abuse so that it was never identified or recovered by police.  Following the close of the investigation, the school promoted the lead teacher who had perpetrated the abuse by providing her with her own classroom and extending the hours of her classes.  Two years later, the principal got another job, and he and his family left the school.

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

Child Angel Statue Crying (Retrieved from http://www.watchmanscry.com/article-get-your%20house-in-order.html, January 11, 2014)

In 1995, a rape was reported to campus police at the University at Buffalo that had occurred in 1992 on the Amherst Campus.  The rape was committed by a male student against a female student.  Both students had been arranged by mutual friends to have a date.  The man took the woman to a local bar, and entered the bar and drank though he was underage, having used an inauthentic driver’s license to enter the establishment.  During the date, the man persistently encouraged the woman to drink, though she drank little.  Following the date and because the student lounge of the woman’s dormitory was a shambles, the woman invited the man in to her dorm room, where he proceeded to deceive her into trusting him, and raped her.  The action was against the woman’s will as the man held her down and caused internal injuries to her while raping her.  The attack was extremely traumatic for the victim who told her friends about it, and they did nothing, in effect becoming accessories to the crime.  In fact, those “friends” never spoke to the survivor again.  No one helped the survivor at her university; she coped the best that she could on her own.

When the rape was reported in 1995 to the campus police at the university, one of the police chiefs laughed about it, demoralizing and dehumanizing the survivor.  The case went to the county district attorney’s office, but was conveniently found to have exceeded the statute of limitations for the category in which the crime was placed.  No support or understanding was offered or provided to the survivor at the university or through the district attorney’s office.  Worse, the district attorney who handled the case told the survivor that she had not been raped, thus blaming and revictimizing the victim.  The offender got away with his crime, was never required to answer for it, and ended up being protected by the DA’s office and the university police by not being brought to justice for it.  Several years following the closure of the case, the perpetrator’s name was deleted from the police report by the campus police, as was the description of the crime that had occurred.  Neither the description of the crime, nor the offender’s name were maintained by campus police in the police report, essentially absolving him of the crime and revictimizing the victim.

These are two examples of crimes in which the perpetrators got away with their offenses.  They were not held accountable, charged, or prosecuted by the very individuals and agencies that are supposed to be protective against crimes, including sex crimes.  While these are just two examples of such situations, there are many more that occur in society every day, and from which perpetrators walk away.

It is important that society be sensitive, understanding, and insightful about victims and survivors of crimes and trauma, including sex crimes.  It seems that most people, because they have not been properly trained in relating with crime victims and trauma survivors, stigmatize and revictimize survivors by blaming, shaming, and punishing them.  Those who should be held accountable and responsible are the perpetrators, themselves, however and often, people make incorrect assumptions and judgments regarding appearances and surface information without knowing all of the details and information that is confidential.

Jesus was also a person who was inaccurately judged by many.  He was a good and merciful person of whom many in power positions were jealous.  Jesus was also different in his goodness, different in that he was so good that he tended not to fit in and was, therefore, ostracized and resented by many.  Jesus was a person who died as a result of jealousy, hated, and evil of those who were unable to tolerate a good and merciful person, a person who was unique and unsurpassable in his goodness and mercy.

Therefore it follows that it is important for people not to inaccurately judge and/or make incorrect assumptions about each other, especially without having all of the details or confidential information.  It is also important that people not stigmatize, blame, punish, and revictimize survivors and victims of crimes, simply out of their own fear, and lack of both insight and understanding.  As people, we should strive to be understanding, helpful, and supportive to each other, as well as forgiving, even in the worst of circumstances, yet also stand up for ourselves and the truth, whether or not we are blamed, stigmatized, punished, or revictimized.

Silence protects and empowers the perpetrators of crimes.  We must seek to speak out about crimes so that criminals are not protected, and so that the greater society is informed and educated about them.

References:

American Psychological Association (2014).  “Understanding child sexual abuse: Education, prevention, and recovery.  What are the effects of child sexual abuse?”  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.   http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/brochures/sex-abuse.aspx?item=4.  Retrieved January 11, 2014.

Babcock-Nice, M. (November 23, 2013).  “Trauma-focused group therapy proposal for adult female rape survivors.” Atlanta, GA: Argosy University, Atlanta.

Baldor, L.C. (January 10, 2014).  “‘Culture of disrespect’ fuels academy sex assaults.”  MSN.com.   http://news.msn.com/us/culture-of-disrespect-fuels-academy-sex-assaults.  Retrieved January 10, 2014.

“When Sexually Offending ‘Pillars of the Community’ go Undetected” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

Pillar Ruins, Retrieved from wallygrom/Flickr, August 16, 2013

When men who sexually harass, assault, traumatize, or otherwise violate others, especially when they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ – and they go undetected and are not held accountable or responsible for their actions – everyone, including themselves, is diminished and victimized.  Recently, we have heard and read about the sexually offensive actions of San Diego’s mayor; nearly 20 women have now come forward with accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct by this man.  Neither is he the first whose actions have violated and offended so many women, nor will he be the last.

Many other men from all walks of life may go undetected for years or even decades with their sexually offensive and/or harmful actions, especially if they are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential.  Often, these men – when faced with the harsh truth of their words and/or actions – blame, punish, revictimize, and do whatever possible to destroy the survivors of their misconduct.  For them, it is a vicious cycle from which they cannot escape because they may often be unwilling and/or unable to honestly admit to themselves that they are wrong, that their words and actions are harmful to their victims, and that they require assistance to overcome their misconduct.  In fact, they may not even see any wrongdoing in their actions, nor perceive their victims as victims; thus, the cycle continues, especially when these men are undetected and are not accountable, nor responsible for their actions.

In 2007, a female parochial school student at St. Joseph’s School in Gowanda, New York described to her teacher and her fellow classmates about how the parish priest, at the time, had sexually harassed her when he was alone with her in the parish rectory.  At the time of the incident, the student was 12-years-old.  This occurred during a time when a party was being held in recognition of the altar servers who gave of their time and service to the church and school at parish masses.  The student reported that she had not told her family about the incident, and therefore, the teacher took responsibility and informed her parents about it.  Sadly, the parents did nothing about it. 

The teacher, being concerned about the girl’s safety, suggested that she no longer be an altar server.  The girl, however, wanted to continue being an altar server – and did so for her remaining year at the school – while the girl’s teacher and certain of the girl’s fellow students made great efforts to be sure that there were no other instances of the priest being alone with her.  That the priest (who is now retired) was in his 60’s at the time, and the student was only 12, suggests that this church leader may be a pedophile. 

When confronted through communications by the teacher that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than a pious church leader, the parish priest retaliated against her.  He privately stated to her, threatening that she “should be afraid” of “the Mafia.”  Far from fearing the Mafia for having done no wrong, this woman continues to believe that it is the priest who should be afraid – not of the Mafia – but of the judgment of God.

During the years 1976-2006, a former female member of St. Joseph’s Church – the church that is associated with the aforementioned school – experienced repeated sexual harassment, as well as two instances of pedophilia by one of the wealthy, powerful, and influential benefactors of these institutions.  The early instances occurred when the girl was 5 and 7-years-old, with one being at one of the man’s businesses and the other occurring while the man was dressed as Santa Claus.  The man sexually harassed this female, treating her like his sexual plaything, from his ages of approximately 35-65 years old.  In later years, the man typically sexually harassed the woman in church and/or on church property, including making sexually explicit actions and gestures toward her in church during masses.  The man has also been known to have sexually harassed other women and girls in his immediate community.

In 2007, the father of the man immediately aforementioned behaved in a manner of sexual misconduct toward the woman by committing a sexual battery against her, privately, while in church after a mass.  The woman remained in the presence of this offender and confronted him, though he simply walked away.  As a man whom this woman considered a friend – someone whom she had known only as a friend throughout her life, and who had provided emotional and spiritual support to her in the past, as well as having dated one of his grandsons – the woman expected an apology at the very least, but got nothing of the sort. 

To have lowered themselves to committing pedophilia, offensive sexual actions, and/or harmful sexual misconduct – and taking no responsibility to correct it, nor to be accountable for it – reflects how men who are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ may go undetected in their sexual misconduct.  These men may be priests, business owners, award winners in their communities, and highly-regarded by most people.  That these men have not taken any steps to correct or seek forgiveness for their misconduct from their victims causes them to avoid identifying and realizing that they have a problem, and therefore, they continue the vicious cycle with other unsuspecting people.  They do not know or care in the least that they have lost the respect and trust of those whom they have victimized; they appear oblivious to the harm they have caused.  Rather than honestly admit and recognize that they have a problem, they do everything possible to cover it up, as well as blame, punish, retaliate, and destroy their victims. 

I feel sorry for men who have such a need for power, control, and dominance over girls and women that they behave in ways that sexually harass, assault, violate, traumatize, harm, and/or intimidate their victims.  That there are many men out there who are viewed by others with admiration and respect, though they secretly and/or discretely perform actions of sexual misconduct, reflects how easy it is for them to go undetected.  In situations where the men performing the sexual misconduct are wealthy, powerful, and/or influential ‘Pillars of the Community’ is worse because they have access to so many venues and opportunities to commit their sexual offenses.

Women and girls, in particular, are at great risk for sexual exploitation by the wealthy and powerful.  I have often heard the phrase, “From whom much is given, much is expected,” however in some cases regarding the wealthy and powerful, their sexual misconduct goes undetected and may continue for years and/or decades.  That many men violate the God-given rights of women and girls (and boys) by committing sexually offensive acts against them shows their lack of respect, appreciation, understanding, insight, and compassion toward them.  Many men, especially those who are among the wealthy and/or powerful, can do better to keep their sexual impulses controlled and in check so that they do not rise to the level of harassment, misconduct, assault, or trauma toward others.  By not doing so, they truly have no concept regarding the level of emotional pain, distress, trauma, and/or mistrust they have caused, and continue to cause years into the future.

I would like to recognize and send my appreciation to all those who stand up for women, girls, children, and the rights of women and children, especially toward survivors of sexual traumas and abuse.  In my own personal circle of friends, two of these women are Merrie and Frances.  Both women risked their own well-being and reputations, as I also have, to stand up against sexual harassment, sexual offenses, gender discrimination, and hostility toward women in our communities; we also experienced retaliation for our efforts, and still do. 

The ultimate in love and friendship occurs when people risk and sacrifice themselves for the good of others, much as Jesus did.  While strong women who stand up to protect those who experience sexual trama and offenses toward them are not often rewarded for their efforts, we have been rewarded by knowing that we have done the right thing in God’s eyes.  Our true rewards await in Heaven; the truth has already set us free.

“Student Exodus from Area Parochial School Could be Avoided” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

St. John Neumann School Billboard, August 12, 2013, Lilburn, Georgia

During this Summer of 2013, 15 rising fourth grade students left St. John Neumann Regional Catholic School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Only three new students entered the fourth grade in addition to the 15 who left.  During the Summer of 2012, eight rising third grade students left the school.  Only two students entered the school as new pupils in the third grade.  Interestingly, both of those students also left the school this Summer, after only one year at the school.  Additionally, the vast majority of students who have left are Caucasian; most others are of mixed race parentage.  Each year for the past three years, the school has considerably down-sized in terms of student population as well as faculty.  Currently, all grade levels have two classes; it used to be that most or all grade levels had three classes up until three years ago.

As a person who has been Roman Catholic all of my life, and who has provided a Catholic education to my child, the exodus of students and faculty from St. John Neumann School is concerning and disturbing.  One must ask, then, why there are so many who are leaving the school.  I have the answers to that, and it does not necessarily involve finances, budgets, or economics.

I suspect that I will come across as “the bad guy” to many by sharing this information regarding the school, however it is for my concern for students’ welfare, well-being, safety, and positive growth and development that I am doing so.  Additionally, my son is aware that I have a blog, and he also asked me to include his perspectives; my son is 10-years-old.

First, let me state that St. John Neumann School provides an outstanding – outstanding – education to the students.  Overall, my observations of what students learn through the challenging curriculum are well above my expectations.  Each year that my son was a student at St. John Neumann School, however, was a roller coaster.  There were wonderful and memorable experiences that he had with several outstanding teachers, however there were also many situations that he experienced by peers and adults at the school that were mentally and emotionally harmful and injurious to him. 

I often communicated with both school administrators and school system administrators, encouraging that greater sensitivity, compassion, and understanding be provided to the students.  Some of my suggestions were put into place, and some were not, and some were later removed after they were first implemented.  As an involved parent at the school, as well as an active volunteer for five years there, there was much that I personally observed and/or was informed about by students.  By far, the most serious issue facing students is the bullying, harshness, and often insensitive treatment they experience by administrators and certain teachers and staff.  I often encouraged upper administrators in the past five years to hold sensitivity training for employees of the school, though that never occurred.

Another very serious issue at the school is bullying that students’ experience from their own peers.  Some children repeatedly experienced bullying from teachers, adminstrators, and/or other staff, as well as certain peers.  This has created an unnecessary and avoidable stressful and hostile environment for many students.  One problem is because many of the school employees are so harsh and insensitive toward students, they are bullies themselves, and they therefore do not recognize, nor put a stop to student bullying.  Last year, more than 25% of parents responding to a school survey stated that bullying is a problem at the school.  I am one who has, again, encouraged school system administrators to hold anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs for faculty and staff at the school, however that has also never occurred.  Such training may help reduce bullying and increase sensitivity and compassion of adults and students toward other students.

A further big concern is the overwhelming pressure that is placed on students to be perfect in every area and in every way – academics, behavior, sociality, religion, and extra-curriculars.  Beginning with the youngest children, students who do not complete their homework are regularly disciplined.  In the past, teachers required students to stand outside for 5-10 minutes “on the line” – as they would say, on the outdoor paved parking lot play area, typically in the excessive heat.  This was an unspoken rule practiced by primary and early elementary school teachers and paraprofessionals.  Older children who did not complete homework are required to write answers to particular questions on a “behavior reflection” that reduces or eliminates their 15-20 minutes of recess time. 

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

St. John Neumann School Parking Lot Play Area, Lilburn, Georgia, May 2012

For two of the past five years, another unspoken disciplinary rule practiced by at least three school faculty involved making students walk and/or run “laps” outside during recess on the parking lot, again, typically in the excessive heat.  Sadly, this practice appears to be somewhat of a common, unwritten practice in this area – requiring students to run laps as punishment in excessively high temperatures – as I have discovered that it occurs at many schools.  In regard to one second grade boy, I informed his father that he was required to run laps as punishment by a paraprofessional, outside in the searing heat, and the dad did not believe me.  How sad that some parents are not more concerned about what their child is experiencing at school.

Other teachers at the school regularly separated certain students from their classmates by requiring them to keep their desks far-removed from those of other students, whether for certain assignments or even months at a time.  I often observed where many teachers would use guilt, humiliation, and embarassment toward students to demoralize them into doing what they wanted them to, rather than speak to children with respect, compassion, and understanding. 

Early elementary students are also required to miss 45 minutes of lunch and recess by serving detention in the main office, including for extremely minor offenses.  Such harsh and unnecessary punishments are unethical, demoralizing, and depressing to many students, particulary those outstanding students who get caught in the crossfires of the political drama at the school.  In consulting with employees of other area schools, lengthy detentions are required only in the most severe situations of high school – high school – students, not early elementary students!  I personally requested of school administration to reduce or eliminate this practice, though there was no positive change, and in fact, only a worsening of it, amounting to nothing less than emotional sadism toward students.  When those who are charged with caring for children see nothing wrong with such unnecessary, harsh disciplinary action toward children for the most minor of offenses, definite positive change is needed. 

Also in practice at the school is suspending children as young as second grade – to my knowledge; one very sweet little girl was suspended last Spring for I cannot imagine what.  In other area schools, such a practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions to the youngest students is unheard of and entirely taboo.  Such a practice proves the lack of sensitivity, understanding, and compassion by school administration.

I feel sorry for the students who are at St. John Neumann School due to the harshness, coldness, and lack of sensitivity and compassion that so many experience from alot of adults as well as peers at the school.  I have often encouraged those in charge who could make a positive difference to consider being more sensitive, understanding, kind, and compassionate toward students.   Harsh, demoralizing, excessive, and/or inhumane punishments that are disguised as “disciplinary actions” – even for the most minor of wrongs – are well beyond what school employees should expect of children.

When students get seriously hurt or ill at the school, a parent is lucky to get a phone call or communication about the incident from anyone.  A second-grade student got a serious blow to the head during outdoor play, but no ice was placed on the injury and no phone call was made to parents.  Upon picking up the child from school, it was obvious to the parent that the injury was serious.  When the child spoke of dizziness a number of hours after the injury, the parent took the child to their pediatrician. 

A kindergarten student fell in the hallway and sustained a large gash near her chin.  Parents received no communications from the school about the incident, and only a band-aid was placed on the wound.  Upon removing the band-aid after the child got home, the parent observed the depth of the wound, taking her to the emergency medical clinic where she received four stitches.  There have also been instances in which students were genuinely ill, but when they asked to go to the clinic, they were refused by certain teachers and paraprofessionals.  Keep in mind that absolutely no communications to parents by anyone at the school was made in any of these situations.

Safety is also a concern at the school.  There are no security cameras at the school, so there is no tangible record of situations that occur there – it is one person’s word against another’s.  A parent can inform an administrator about a teacher who belittles, bullies, and yells at a student – such as, simply for asking to use the restroom – but without any recording of it, the administrator does not believe it, does not want to get involved, and further, had already behaved in a bullyish manner toward children, so it is a lost cause.

Additionally, even with improved security measures having been implemented at the school this past Spring, it has not actually gotten better.  All visitors are to sign-in at the front office upon entering the building, however have been many occasion – including since the new policies were implemented – that I personally observed people enter and walk through the building without signing in at all, nor going to the main office.  There are also repeated instances of no one being at the front desk at the main office when people enter the school. 

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

St. John Neumann School, Lilburn, Georgia, August 2013

Last Spring, there was an actual “intruder alert” that occurred at the school that was not a drill; I was at the school volunteering when it occurred.  Parents were not informed by any school officials that the intruder alert occurred.  While the Superintendent stated in an archdiocese newspaper article that such drills and procedures regularly occur at all schools, a teacher at the school shared that only one such alert – whether actual or drill – occurred there in the past seven years!  If she means that such alerts and/or drills occur every seven years, she would be correct that they occur regularly, however it has been my experience that many public schools, for example, practice them between 2-4 times each year.  Because these drills and alerts are not “regularly” practiced at the school, many teachers really do not know what to do.  When fire and even tornado drills are practiced more than intruder drills, I for one, am concerned about the safety of my child at the school.

Teachers are also known to leave outside doors propped or even slightly ajar when they are supposed to be closed and locked.  Unfortunately, this is also a practice at many schools, so that late colleagues can enter the school undetected by supervisors.  However, that this is regularly being done on the hallway that houses the youngest children is a serious safety concern.

Again, I will likely be viewed as the bearer of bad news by sharing this information, however I believe that steps need to be taken to make improvements in order to progress rather than regress at St. John Neumann School.  I know I won’t win any awards for my article.  That my son – a 10-year-old – also wanted me to share his views about what he experienced at the school reflects the tone and atmosphere that is present at the school. 

While we have had many wonderful and memorable experiences at the school, as well as having met, interacted with, and befriended many people – including some truly great teachers – it is a serious concern when a school does not live up to it’s mission and standards.  When “teaching the Gospel values” of God and Jesus in the Catholic tradition is merely spoken but not actually practiced by many school representatives, there is definitely something that must change for the better. 

So, at $7,000 per student in tuition only, St. John Neumann lost a total of 18 students from the second and third grades in the past two years.  I think that’s a total of $126,000 if I did my math correctly, right?  That’s alot of money to be losing.  In business, it is always said that it is much easier to retain those people who are already part of an institution rather than recruit new ones.  However, in sharing my perspectives about this to both school administrators and school system administrators, there has been an apathy and lack of concern about it.  For me, personally, as a Catholic and having desired for my child to have a Catholic education, this is a serious concern. 

Thus, the reasons that I have described herein, I believe, are those that have caused the increasing exodus from and diminished size of St. John Neumann School in Lilburn, Georgia.  Isn’t it time for a positive change?  My aim in sharing this information is not to be critical, however it is to be honest and urge for positive change and improvements to occur at the school.  St. John Neumann is surely an excellent school at which students receive an outstanding education.  And again, while we have had many wonderful, exciting, and happy memories at the school, there are also a number of issues that deserve both serious attention and improvement. 

It is definitely disappointing when a school of one’s own faith does not meet minimal expectations regarding the value and treatment of children.  Children should not be perceived, nor treated as bad what with issuing so many unnecessary and harsh punishments; it is the perspectives and training of the adults that need drastic improvement.  Maybe if more people put their heads together, praying and working hard in doing what is in the best interests of children, that will occur.

“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.  Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.  I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.  Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.  Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.  Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.  Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.  Additionally, perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.  In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057), she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.  Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.  They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.  For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.  They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.  These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or self-destructive ideations.  If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.  The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.  The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.  Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.  Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.  Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.  First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.  While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.  Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”  I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.  Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.  And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.  As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education – perhaps including school counselors and school psychologists – may be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors – in particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts – are psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals – the majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators – could also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have – thus far – experienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding – and, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those – he or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).  “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”  Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C., & Whitlock, E.P. (2012).  “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”  Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).  “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”  Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).  “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”  Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

“Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

It is very upsetting, discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing when one approaches another to seek improvement in and/or resolution to a particular matter, and the other person contributes to being part of the problem by not being understanding or supportive about it, rather than being part of the solution.  I experienced this several times, already, this week in relation to school situations.  The person for whom it is most upsetting and disturbing is the child who directly experiences it.  It is always discouraging to experience situations in which the words and behaviors of school employees are part of the problem.  It is encouraging when their words and actions contribute to solutions.

When a family is spending more money on a private school education for their child, they expect more in every area.  Expected is more support, more understanding, more sensitivity, and at least, fairness, particuarly in situations about which upper administration and administration are informed, regardless of by whom they are informed.  Expected is a positive experience for their child.  Expected is fairness, without bullying of the child by either peers or adults.  As one often finds, unfairness and a lack of sensitivity and understanding may be the norm.  Such a norm should not be tolerated or accepted by anyone, nor experienced by the child.

Therefore, people – particularly those in education who work with children every day – can be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.  I much prefer that they be part of the solution, and that it be a positive solution at that.  Situations in which a particular child is repeatedly blamed for standing up for himself or herself to peer bullies who belittle and degrade him – especially in a Christian environment that is supposed to promote Christian values – are particularly frustrating. 

Worse is the educator and/or administrator who can say nothing positive about the child who has stood up for himself or herself, and instead, always finds fault and harshly punishes the child.  Such educators and administrators should be ashamed of themselves for their repeated unfairness, for repeatedly supporting the bullies.  Never do those child bullies receive any consequences for their actions; their words and actions are repeatedly supported.  The victim of the bullying is repeatedly blamed.  Psychologically, this is the blaming of the victim routine.  Unnecessarily, it typically happens to the same child or children who stand up for themselves to the bullies.

It was the same for me when I was in school.  A bully provoked, and provoked, and provoked, and finally, when I stood up for myself, I was blamed and punished by school officials.  The bully who provoked the situation received no consequences, and behaved as though she was the victim to garner more support.  The same types of situations occurred toward my parents and other family members when they were in school.  School should not be a place in which people experience bullying, however it is and has been throughout generations.

I try to teach my child to be patient with others, that when others bully or provoke him, it is their problem.  However, it is difficult and challenging for any child to tolerate or accept being bullied.  In a Christian environment, with a Christian background and upbringing, I try to teach my child to turn the other cheek.  However, others typically perceive those as weak who are patient, kind, and who turn the other cheek. 

Unfortunately, and from what I have found throughout my own life experiences, the most productive way to cause a bully to stop bullying you is to give the bully back some of their own medicine.  For people who are kind, nice, caring, and compassionate, it completely goes against one’s personality to do so.  However, in doing so, the bully typically leaves you alone after that.  They discover that their perception of you was incorrect.  They discover that you have surprised them by standing up to their bullying, to their provocations, to their harsh words and actions. 

I want the best for my child.  I want my child to enjoy going to school.  My child receives and excellent education, however I repeatedly encourage the practice of increased sensitivity, patience, positive reinforcement, support, and understanding.  I do this every year.  Some are more supportive and understanding than others; some will never change. 

There are few who hold the high standards that I do of being caring, compassionate, patient, supportive, sensitive toward, and understanding of children.  To those few, I deeply appreciate you; you are part of the solution.  However, it is those who refuse to see and practice a different and better way who are part of the problem, who contribute to the regression and/or detriment of the child. 

Those who are part of the problem, rather than part of the solution, should not be in education.  They are not positive role models for children.  In this day and age, we desperately need more and more positive role models for children.  So, when are things going to change for the better rather than for the worse?  Positive change and a reassessment toward needed support for children who are repeated targets of bullies is imperative – it is imperative!  Fairness and support are imperative, rather than unfairness and a lack of support!  It is exactly this type of unfairness and lack of support that leads to bullicide – the suicide of students who are bullied, by peers or by adults.  By then, it is too late, and another life has been tragically lost.

Therefore, I encourage each of you to be positive role models for children, and to always be part of the solution – whether in education or any other area – rather than part of the problem!  Be a positive role model for children.  Be open to thinking of saying or doing things in a different and better way.  Be sensitive toward, and considerate, understanding, and supportive of children, for the sake of their mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and physical well-being!

“Georgia’s SST Process is Supposed to Help, not Hurt Students” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Instructional Materials

Instructional Materials

In Georgia, schools have what is called “Student Support Team” or “SST” to assist students who are struggling with academics, behavior, and/or socialization in the classroom.  In my experience as a public middle school teacher in Georgia for six years, I found that the SST process was extremely helpful and supportive to students, especially when I was the teacher leading and/or otherwise participating in it.  My experienced education mentors in the DeKalb County School System near Atlanta taught me the process and ensured that open-mindedness was maintained in helping and supporting students with every possible intervention for which they qualified, based on their academic, behavioral, and/or social needs.  In public schools, one also had to maintain caution about not suggesting supports and/or interventions that the parent would not consider because the school system (as is true of all public school systems, to my knowledge) did not desire to pay for services that it was unable to offer.  In the private school setting, however, the SST process is extremely different and potentially much less supportive than that in public schools, which I will compare here.

“Georgia SST teams had their origin in a federal lawsuit known as Marshall vs. Georgia (1984). It dealt primarily with disproportionate placement of minority students in Special Education. While the state prevailed in this case, a shortcoming in Georgia education became obvious: there was no standard process for students to obtain individualized help in the regular classroom for learning or behavior difficulties.  Instead, the route to such help usually led to placement in Special Education, often involving removal from the general classroom.  As part of its commitment to federal court to remedy technical violations found in the trial, the State of Georgia mandated that a Student Support Team would be established in every Georgia public school, K-12. The court accepted this commitment, thereby making the SST mandate a permanent injunction” (Block quote from: State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011).

In my experience as a public school teacher in Georgia, I would estimate having led and/or participated in many dozens of SST process team meetings for my students.  Whenever any of my colleagues and/or I identified areas of deficiency and/or potential improvement for students, the students were referred to SST.  SST is a type of support for students that identifies and monitors areas and/or other characteristics of the student in the school setting that could be improved.  For example, a gifted student who has straight As in all subjects except for math – and who is failing math – can be referred to SST for support and monitoring.  Also, a student who has recently maintained average grades, but who has become withdrawn, is failing, and is at-risk (of dropping out of school) can be forwarded through the SST process.  And, a student whose behavior is inappropriate, unacceptable, and/or dangerous, and who is failing due to his or her behavior can also be referred to SST.  Additionally, a student who is pregnant and who is expected to be out of school for awhile due to giving birth can also be referred to SST.

In my experience in teaching public middle school students around Atlanta, Georgia, the SST process was always helpful on each and every occasion.  Public school educators are very interested in assisting and supporting students so that they will be successful, and/or so that they will improve in the areas in which betterment is desired.  I can say that the educators with whom I worked, including myself, were always consistently interested in helping and supporting our students as much as possible.  We went above and beyond in doing what we could, within legal guidelines for public school educators, in suggesting out-of-school supports, as well as in providing and implementing in-school aids to support increased success and learning. 

Some of the actions that were implemented by public school teachers for students through SST to aid them include moving the student’s desk closer in proximity to the teacher to better assist in maintaining the student’s attention; providing extended time to complete assignments and/or assessments; giving individualized verbal and written instructions and/or directions (in addition to addressing them to the entire class); breaking up larger assignments into smaller parts; providing more positive feedback, incentives, and reinforcements; providing increased follow-up, monitoring for progress, and/or redirection to students for whom it is needed and/or helpful; pairing students with those who are good mentors and/or role models; etc.  There are a great many more interventions that can be provided in the classroom, as well, including giving the student leadership opportunities in class; providing the student with more opportunities to speak and/or ask and answer questions; calling on the student by name; maintaining a positive, nonjudgmental tone with the student; not “guilting” a student because he or she is unable to understand and/or complete work; and giving students opportunities to be more mobile in class.  All of these interventions and more are those which my colleagues and I implemented for students with whom we were involved in the SST process.

In contrast, I can also describe a perfect example of how the SST process has broken down and has seriously emotionally and/or academically-injured and/or failed a student, including the generation of risk to their health and life.  I believe that because educators, administrators, and/or counselors and psychologists in private schools are unfamiliar and inexperienced with the SST process in Georgia because they have not been required to utilize it and/or there has been little to no oversight or enforcement of it in their school systems, that it is not nearly as effective as the process implemented in public schools.  Or, perhaps school employees in private schools may deliberately mishandle the process, purposely jeopardizing students’ health, life, and/or academic success.  Public school teachers in Georgia utilitze the SST process to assist students all the time; private school teachers and other school personnel appear to perceive the SST process as a last resort and something to avoid at all possible costs.  Even for those students who may need, require, and/or benefit from the SST process in private schools, there is a great lack of it’s utilization in the private school environment, as I have observed.

In relation to the particular student whom I will call Carl, he is an elementary school (grade 3) aged child who has regularly achieved high grades and is an honor student, academically, behaviorally, as well as in character and values.  Carl’s standardized test scores are extremely high, with his average academic functioning ranging between grade 5 to 7, and his overall academic functioning ranging between grade 3 to grade 10.  Carl’s socialization might benefit from more positive interactions and opportunities for positive, small group cooperative work with his peers, however he has had prior experiences that have understandably-caused him to be cautious of his peers and others.  Carl could also benefit from increased follow-up, attention, reassurance, and positive reinforcement from his teachers, as well as greater open-mindedness toward utilizing and implementing supports that will better aid in Carl’s academic success, reduction in stress, and increased happiness and confidence at school.

For Carl, it would have benefited him for his teachers and/or school to have instituted the SST process immediately upon their observation of him requiring additional time to complete his assignments and/or assessments.  They provided accommodations to Carl for a period of six months prior to nearly all of them being removed by the school psychologist, against the many suggestions and evidence provided by an outside professional who completed an outside evaluation of Carl.  It’s not that Carl is unable to perform extremely well on all of his work, it’s that he simply needs some additional time to complete it.  Therefore, what happened was that extended time was provided for some time, and following an outside assessment, nearly all extended time was removed, even though the professional who completed the outside assessment repeatedly recommended continuing the extended time accommodations, and identified – through a valid evaluation – that Carl’s processing time was lower than average.  Basically, the evaluation that was completed addressed only reading and math, and not language arts or writing.  Simply based on the reading and math results of the evaluation, the school psychologist of the private faith-based school removed nearly all of Carl’s extended time accommodations, without having any concrete evidence to do so in his other subjects. 

School Books and Assignments

School Books and Assignments

In my experience, removing accommodations already in place without evidence to support the need for their removal is simply not done and is unethical.  To remove nearly all of six months worth of accommodations placed Carl at significant peril in many areas of his life and development.  In all of my experience, accommodations are only removed when the student shows progress in being able to be successful without them in place.  Accommodations are never removed if they will hurt the student in some – or any – way.  In Carl’s situation, nearly all of his extended time accommodations were removed, and it was literally like the rug being pulled out from under him.  Again, the professional who completed Carl’s evaluation repeatedly stated that the extended time accommodations was needed and warranted.  The school psychologist who interpreted the professional’s evaluation removed nearly all of the accommodations that were in place to help support Carl in maintaining success. 

The school psychologist would rather remove accommodations already proven to help and support Carl, and require additional evaluations, rather than keep supports in place that have aided in his success.  The school principal also likely prepped the school psychologist for the outcome that was desired, and that is what occurred.  Further, school leaders always speak of wanting a partnership between home and school, however when situations such as this occur – when accommodations are removed that have been proven to assist the student in his success – it reflects that there is no partnership, and instead, there exists an adversarial relationship.

Following the removal of nearly all of Carl’s accommodations by the school psychologist, he began failing many assignments and/or attaining low grades on them – not because he was not capable of doing them well, but because he was unable to complete them.  This, therefore, placed extreme and unnecessary stress on Carl, and led to a crisis situation.  It, therefore, appears that the school psychologist and even perhaps other school leaders are more interested in removing supports to assist students, rigidly adhering to curriculum requirements that students may be unable to attain without extra supports, and essentially and literally placing a nail in a student’s coffin by removing supports that have assisted them. 

Rather than understand and support an outstanding student such as Carl as much as possible, why would a school psychologist remove supports for him that have been proven to assist him in his success?  Why would a school psychologist prefer to create a crisis situation for such a wonderful and outstanding student, when there is no evidence to support the removal of accommodations already in place?  Does the school psychologist prefer that Carl fail?  Does the school psychologist intend for Carl to experience a crisis or worse?  It appears so.

In this situation, the SST process at this private, faith-based school has failed Carl, and caused risk to his health and life.  Worse than negatively affecting his grades, assignment completion, confidence, and mood, it caused a crisis situation that could have led to Carl not being here today.  Is curriculum of greater importance than a child’s life?  Is educational rigidity and a lack of understanding of students more important than supporting and helping them as much as possible to be successful and happy in school?  Are private schools not to be held accountable for assisting students with success through positive (rather than negative) endeavors of the SST process?  In this particular situation, this certainly appears to be the case. 

When a related issue of parentally-requested school support of Carl be completed for him – and it was not – the issue went before the school system’s superintendent, who cited her support for curriculum, policy, and the privatization of the school system, preferring those areas to the support and well-being of Carl.  When school leaders succumb to intellectual blindness related to denying support, success, well-being, and lives of their students, such school leaders cease to be effective.  School leaders who are also unable to cope with constructive criticism and honesty, and who are either unwilling or unable to provide simple support, understanding, and compassion to students – particularly children – have the potential for being more destructive than constructive. 

In order to be productive and progressive, schools and school leaders must be open-minded to all perspectives and philosophies – even the ones they don’t like to hear – in order to improve and in order to best-serve and benefit the students.  School leaders, particularly those in upper administration, must also use their intelligence and insight in order to model, understand, and believe what is true and correct – as well as remain ethical – rather than allowing themselves to be poisoned by inaccurate or false information provided to them by those whom they manage. 

There are some school leaders who are open-minded and effective because they listen to and consider the issues of their customers, however there often seem to be many more who do not listen to, nor consider serious issues because they do not approach the issues with open-mindedness and without prejudgment and bias.  Leaders of the former-type are most effective because they always have the best interests of the students in mind.  Regarding the latter-type leaders, their purposeful ignorance and/or “fix” to the issues may only contribute to further problems and a worsening of the issues.

Students in all schools in Georgia – not just those attending public schools – must be afforded the positive support that they need through SST and the SST process.  Removing supports that were put in place to assist the student, and doing so with no evidence that the student is able to perform as well without the supports, unnecessarily injures the student, placing the student at risk for further injury.  Hopefully, people who have been entrusted to support and help students will do so, rather than playing with their intellect, emotions, and lives as if they are unimportant and unvalued.  Hopefully, such people will do so before it is too late.  But, then again, some people never change.

References:

State of Georgia Department of Education, 2011.  “Student Support Teams (SST): Structure and Process” (p. 4).  Retrieved on March 3, 2013 from   http://archives.gadoe.org/DMGetDocument.aspx/SST%20Guidelines%20Final%209-16-11.pdfp=6CC6799F8C1371F62BDB7AD6F76A3052D9E5ABE36C978EDD135479A5CF0628D1&Type=D