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Editorial: Making Student Wellness Matter at Palmer Ridge

Upcoming Community Events on April 26 and May 1 Focused on Providing Knowledge, Improving Culture

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“If we’re going to be real about mental health it’s a community involvement, engagement that needs to happen,” Mr. Tom Pulford told his health class in the late hours of a Tuesday afternoon. Pulford is among many professionals in El Paso County that have become alarmed by the high number of teen suicides in the area.
“My heart has really been breaking for your generation that is encountering higher rates of depression and we’re seeing higher rates of teen suicide which I believe is part of the high prevalence of teen depression.”
Because of this concern about teen mental health in the area, Pulford has taken it upon himself to take action to correct the alarming trend. So, on April 26 Palmer Ridge will be hosting an event called “Take Charge.” The program is a one night event that will feature community leaders and experts with the goal of empowering students and parents with the knowledge they need in order to modify the habits of themselves and others. Pulford hopes to connect with parents and students “in new ways to help them understand that habits that they have probably already formed need to change so that they’re not becoming depressed..”
More specifically, Pulford would like them to be more aware of the correlation between time spent on social media and depression in teens. These screen-time habits have come into the spotlight recently thanks to a number of studies on the issue. Pulford himself has been closely following the work of author Simon Sinek, who believes that the large amount of time young people spend on social media detracts from their ability to have conversations in person. This disconnect between people can often lead to isolation and depression.
To combat this problem, Pulford has set aside a significant amount of time during Take Charge to educate parents and students on the issue.
The Bear Truth commends Mr. Pulford for his concern about the mental health of students not only within the school, but around the area. It is teachers that are so invested in the overall health and well-being of students that make Palmer Ridge such a special place.
Mr. Gabel agrees, and that’s why the most important factor for him when hiring is finding “teachers that care about students.” By having teachers that are even more passionate about students than the content they teach, students are empowered to seek out teachers for help during difficult times. For students that have difficult home lives, teachers may be their most important resource regarding issues of mental health. “You can have all the content and knowledge in the world but if you can’t have that connection with students you’re not going to be successful,” said Gabel.
While the connections between staff and students are the bedrock to forming a positive culture and safety net for students, teachers must also be equipped to aid students in need that come to them. That’s why after these connections are made “the biggest thing is teaching staff and students how to recognize signs . . . what to see, what to look for,” says District 38 social worker, Ms. Debbie Sell. In order to ensure that the staff is properly equipped in handling difficult situations, D38 makes Youth Mental Health First Aid Training available to staff. This training is very intensive and at this time it is not required for teachers, but Sell “would love for it to be mandatory” in the future. By readying teachers for these difficult conversations, it helps to eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness.
Beyond connections between students and staff, Palmer Ridge has various organizations to foster connections between students. These include FCA, RAD, Friends of Rachel, Pride Club, and Fusion. On March 21 the PRHS choir will be hosting a concert of “love and unity” in order to help heal the community.
Palmer Ridge has a positive culture already, but bringing the Path2Empathy (P2E) program into the building would “definitely help” create “a more inclusive environment” within the school, says Sell.
The program was created by Jennica Mabe, Amy Sienkowski, Carrie Block, and Angela Dawson at Lewis-Palmer Middle School. It would have to be refreshed for the high school level, but if its success at the middle school is any indication, P2E would have a profound impact at PR.
Sienkowski, a counselor, believes the program “will be creating an environment where when they [students] are feeling defeated and negative and dark that they know that they can reach out and they know that they can say ‘I need help’ and they know who they can go to because that’s kind of the culture of what we’re moving towards.”
Path2Empathy is unique in that it engages students in a positive and preventative way that is desperately needed in El Paso County. It empowers students to break out of traditional labels like “bully” and “bystander,” thereby improving the greater culture.
On May 1, in conjunction with the Tri-Lakes YMCA and D38, P2E will host “Student Wellness Night” at the YMCA. The night will not only provide suicide prevention information to students and parents, but also help students make connections with various clubs and organizations.
By empowering students with knowledge and connecting them to each other, El Paso County can heal and develop a healthier culture and climate. The implementation of Path2Empathy is a critical step in this process.
“We as a community must realize these are our kids; this isn’t just a school problem or a parent problem,” says Mabe. “We’re going to make a statement to the teens in the area that we care about you.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Editorial: Making Student Wellness Matter at Palmer Ridge”

  1. Ken Motta on March 21st, 2017 10:30 am

    Great article! Thanks for bringing this forward.

    [Reply]

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Editorial: Making Student Wellness Matter at Palmer Ridge