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Wakulla Teachers Train on Mental Health, Suicide Awareness and Prevention


September 20, 2018


September is National Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.  The faculty and staffs of Wakulla County public schools are training and learning more all the time about mental health and suicide awareness to better serve their students.

A new resource this year is a separate office run by Belinda McElroy, Principal on Special Assignment, which focuses on Student Services such as the need for more mental health services.

After McElroy and Wakulla Institute Assistant Principal James Vernon attended a workshop over the summer about The Jason Foundation, they thought that training the smaller Wakulla Institute faculty and staff would be a great starting point for this year’s professional development.

The Jason Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the belief that “awareness and education are the first steps to prevention. We want to establish a Triangle of Prevention by providing students, parents and teachers the tools and resources to help identify and help at-risk youth.”

There is no intent to diagnose or treat suicidal ideation. The Jason Foundation’s intention is to empower youth, educators and parents to help recognize when young people are in pain and where to go to get professional help involved as soon as possible.

Wakulla Institute consists of the Pathways disciplinary program, the Impact credit recovery program, and the Virtual School on-line program. 

There is now a full-time counselor from DISC Village on the campus of Wakulla Institute, a certified guidance counselor, weekly visits from the FSU psychology interns, plus there are two full-time Licensed Clinical Social Workers on staff for the entire school system. 

Says Vernon, “I was proud of the Wakulla Institute faculty and staff members. Everyone participated in the training and earned certificates for the on-line module they finished.  I did all ten modules because the more I learned, the more I saw some of our students in the cases presented.”

Adds McElroy, “We are taking mental health and suicide awareness training to all the faculties at the different schools. We held our first Youth Mental Health First Aid trainings on Sept. 12 with 35 participants. These were mainly middle school and high school special area teachers, coaches, and guidance personnel.”

Youth Mental Health First Aid is a 6 hour course mandated for all school personnel by Senate Bill 7026 that encompasses suicide awareness and prevention. This course does not teach to diagnose and treat, but to be aware of signs and symptoms, how to assist students in getting help, and how to intervene if a student is in crisis.

Notes Superintendent Bobby Pearce, “Even with a heightened sense of awareness about our students’ mental health, it is tough to identify each and every one student who needs help because the signs may be hard to see.  The more people we have trained on what to look for, the better.” 

Adds McElroy, “We will be providing more trainings in suicide awareness and prevention using Jason Foundation materials throughout the school year. But, kudos to Mr. Vernon and his WI team for leading the way!”