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Cedar Springs Schools focus on suicide prevention


csps-hawk-logoBy Judy Reed

The excitement of the beginning of a new school year for Cedar Springs Public Schools was muted this year as the district is experiencing a disturbing trend—three student suicides in less than a year. One happened in August 2015, one in May 2016, and the most recent in August 2016. Each one has left the families, students, staff, and community reeling—and asking, “Why is this happening?”

According to the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children ages 15 to 24, in Kent County.

“We want this to be exposed,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “You don’t realize how many may be contemplating it. It’s really scary.”

In May, Van Duyn began to work on pulling together experts in the field and agencies that could help with prevention and treatment.

They district had already implemented the OK2Say program earlier in the spring, which is a Michigan program created by Cedar Springs Curriculum Director Jo Spry, as well as a peer listening group, to help combat bullying, violence, crime, and suicide. According to VanDuyn, OK2Say has saved lives in the district.

“There have been several calls in the last couple of weeks,” said VanDuyn. “Our new school resource officer has personally escorted three children to the hospital after getting tips through the program.”

But this year, the district is doing even more. The experts in the field that VanDuyn contacted in the spring had their first meeting on September 1 to meet each other and begin to come up with a plan to respond in a crisis situation, as well as how to educate staff and students on suicide prevention. Included in the group was Arbor Services Kent School Services Network, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, Cherry Health, school mental health counselors, psychologists, and more.

“Our goal is to create a model on how to best utilize the services everyone offers to best serve kids,” explained VanDuyn. “We will meet again to define our roles and what each can offer.”

Other things they will do is expand the b.e. n.i.c.e. program to high school (in addition to middle school); teach the Live Laugh Love curriculum in some of the higher grades (from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan) and also offer the Healthy Kids series, three free events.

They also have an event coming up next week that they hope the public will attend. They will be showing the free movie “Hope Bridge” on Wednesday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. The movie is about a young man whose father commits suicide. (See ad on page 2.) Christy Buck, Executive Director at the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, will also be on hand to speak at the event.

The school district is also encouraging people to attend the “Walk to fight suicide” at Millenium Park on Sept. 18 at 1 p.m. For more info you can visit afsp.org/walk.

“It would be great if we could get a big showing from Cedar Springs,” said VanDuyn.

She said that she has been overwhelmed by the amount of community support she’s getting from people calling and asking what they can do, and saying that they will help in anyway that they can.

And VanDuyn is determined to do something to help stop kids from considering suicide as a solution to their problems. “All of these kids were unique. They were good kids. The only way to work towards stopping this is to expose it,” she said.

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Attorney general speaks to Cedar Springs students


 

Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette with Cedar Springs students.

Cedar Springs students team with Schuette, Michigan State Police to tackle bullying, violence

By Judy Reed

Students walk the hallways at school every day carrying weights that others know nothing about. Some are victims of physical abuse, either at home or at school; some are being bullied by their peers; some are victims of sexting or date rape; and others feel like failures and are contemplating suicide or violence.

Cedar Springs High School and Middle School students kicked off a program last Thursday, April 14, that gives students a way to report and stop bullying and violence.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette was on hand, along with the Michigan State Police and local law enforcement, to kick off the OK2SAY program, a student safety initiative that enables students to confidentially report criminal activities or potential harm directed at students, school employees, and schools. Leaders from numerous community groups were also on hand for the presentation.

Since its inception in 2014, students have submitted more than 3,700 tips across the State of Michigan. Bullying, cyber bullying, self-harm, and suicide are the categories that receive the most tips. Other categories that receive tips include: drug use, weapon possession, and assault.

Based on research from the U.S. Secret Service, in 81 percent of violent incidents in U.S. schools, someone other than the attacker had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.

“OK2SAY is about communication, early intervention, and prevention,” said Michigan State Police Inspector Matt Bolger. “When students make the courageous decision to break the code of silence and speak out against harmful behavior, they equip authorities with the information needed to respond to threats and avert tragedy. That’s a good thing for Michigan schools, communities, and families.”

The goal of OK2SAY is to stop harmful behavior before it occurs by encouraging students (or adults) to report threatening behavior to caring adult authorities who can help. They can confidentially submit tips anytime by using the OK2SAY mobile app, online, email, texting, or by calling trained program technicians. Upon receipt of a tip, specially trained OK2SAY technicians address the immediate need and forward the information to the appropriate responding law enforcement agency or organization. Tips go to schools, local law enforcement agencies, community mental health agencies or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Schuette told the students and The Post that it is about changing the culture from “don’t be a snitch” to “it’s ok to communicate to save a life.”

“OK2SAY has made a difference. We are stopping violence in its tracks and making school a safer place for our kids,” said Schuette. “Credit for the program’s success is directly attributable to the thousands of student ‘heroes in the hallway’ who stepped up and took ownership of their roles in keeping their schools and classmates safe.”

“The thing that struck me about the program, is that it has saved lives,” Schuette told the Post. “It’s not perfect. But what we have done is reached out to say, here is an opportunity to help people stop bullying, to stop a weapon being brought to school. It’s tech friendly, confidential. It can be done without fear of intimidation,” he explained.

Students have several ways they can communicate a tip to authorities. They can download and use the mobile app for either iPhone or android; they can call 1-8-555-OK2SAY, 1-855-565-2729; Text: 652729 (OK2SAY); they can email ok2say@mi.gov; or visit the Web: www.ok2say.com fill out an online form.

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.”

Attorney General Schuette honored Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Photo by J. Reed.

The state program, which started in fall 2014, just happened to be inspired by our current Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Jo Spry, before she came to Cedar Springs. Spry, who grew up in Greenville, was a principal at a school in Colorado, during the years after the attack at Columbine. Colorado adopted a program called “Safe to Tell,” and Spry said they adopted it at her high school in the Woodland Park District. “I knew the impact it had. It was a way for students to have that voice. They are not always comfortable coming forward,” she explained.

When Spry came home to Michigan, and settled in Cadillac, she began to work with legislators, the attorney general’s office, and community organizations to adopt a similar program here in Michigan. “I didn’t run across anyone who didn’t want it,” she said.

Schuette honored Spry during the program with a special license plate in a frame that reads “OK2SAY.” Spry did not know that was going to happen.

“It’s truly a passion of mine to make sure students in all of our schools are safe,” said Spry. “OK2SAY is a wonderful program, and I will be eternally grateful to the legislators, community groups and the attorney general that stepped up to see it through.”

Schuette explained that he does not often get to go to the kickoff of the programs. “We have a team of 35 of us that do this, and I go when I can,” he said. He seemed visibly pleased with the turnout of the crowd and the way that the program was embraced. “I think from the moment I walked in, and saw everyone, it was powerful and uplifting. It’s really a powerful tool. The more we can communicate this and get it out there, the better it will be.”

“School should be a safe and welcoming place for all students,” said Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent. “Cedar Springs Schools are committed to a bully-free environment. We are grateful that the Attorney General choose to visit our school to address our students and encourage them to step up and do the right thing.”

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

Attorney General Schuette poses with the new peer listening club. Photo by J. Reed.

OK2SAY is not the only program being implemented to help students. The anti-bullying program in use at the elementary level, “Be Nice” is being moved up to secondary level, and a new peer listening club has been formed. The group was formed after senior Jessica Durrell heard about the program at a youth group she attended. She brought it back to her Rotary Interact Leadership group (another new program at the high school this year) and the peer listening group spun off into it’s own group. It is made up of nine members—six girls and three boys—who can listen to other students as needed during the day. “They will listen to peers who need to vent, talk about stressors, academics, etc.,” explained Dr. VanDuyn. “They are there to listen, not give advice.” Counselor volunteers have trained all the students.

For more information on OK2SAY, visit www.ok2say.com.

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Police investigate death of inmate


Scott Hammer, 51, the live-in boyfriend of Danielle Scholten-Linderman, 29, reportedly burned the woman’s farmhouse in Sheridan that they had been renovating, after he allegedly killed her in a struggle in Spencer Township, Wednesday, October 23. Post photo by L. Allen.

Scott Hammer, 51, the live-in boyfriend of Danielle Scholten-Linderman, 29, reportedly burned the woman’s farmhouse in Sheridan that they had been renovating, after he allegedly killed her in a struggle in Spencer Township, Wednesday, October 23. Post photo by L. Allen.

Scott Allen Hammer

Scott Allen Hammer

A man charged with murder for allegedly killing his live-in girlfriend, in Spencer Township, in October was found dead in his cell at the Kent County Correctional Facility Tuesday, December 10.

The Kent County Sheriff Department reported that Scott Allen Hammer, 51, did not come out of his cell for breakfast at 4:48 a.m. When deputies checked on him, they found him dead, in what they said appears to be a suicide. An autopsy will determine the cause of death.

Hammer was arrested October 23, after allegedly killed Danielle Scholten-Linderman, 29, at a home on Lincoln Lake Avenue, in Spencer Township, where they had been staying with family. The couple was staying there while renovating their home in Sheridan. Police said that sometime early that morning a struggle had taken place between the couple that resulted in Danielle’s death. Hammer then fled the home and went to their farmhouse at 3360 Wise Road, in Sheridan, Montcalm County, and set the house on fire. Montcalm County Sheriff deputies then apprehended Hammer without incident.

Hammer was charged with open murder and his case was pending trial at the time of his death.

 

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New program helps people recover from loss of loved one to suicide


At a time when many people are excited about the holidays, there are some who are struggling with loss of a loved one. This can be especially difficult if that loved one took his or her life. The Kent County Health Department wants you to know there is help.

The Healthy Kent Suicide Prevention Coalition has teamed up with network180 for a new “Survivor Outreach Program.” Trained volunteers can offer support to family members and friends who are struggling with loss and want to talk with someone who has “walked in their shoes”. One call to the network180 Survivor Outreach hotline (available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) will put you in touch with the Suicide Outreach Program coordinator, who will contact the volunteer to meet with the family in person or over the phone in the next 3-5 days. network180 and the Healthy Kent Suicide Prevention Coalition are distributing information about this service to Kent County First Responders and Funeral Home Directors. If you or someone you know need to talk to someone about dealing with a suicide, call the SOP line at 616.336.3909.

Seventy-four people completed suicide in Kent County in 2009. That was the highest recorded in the past several years. This year through November, 56 people have died by suicide. Dozens of professionals in Kent County are committed to helping people who are struggling with depression. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This line is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24-hours a day and your call is free.

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