Instead of its normal teacher institute program last Friday, teachers and staff listened to a clinical psychologist speak about family and teen stress issues, including suicide.
Dr. John Jochem, president and founder of Hawthorn Counseling Group in Vernon Hills, specializes in adolescents seeking help with mood disorders, anxiety problems and adolescent development.
Since the school year resumed Jan. 3, two students have been killed after being hit by Metra trains.
, walked in front of an oncoming train Jan. 9 at Western Avenue and Ryan Place. The latest occurred Feb. 28 when , was hit by a train after taking a path to cross the railroad tracks from behind a business strip mall in the 1300 block of North Western Avenue.
In response to phone calls and emails from parents and community members, has spurred the formation of a group composed of local government bodies and youth organizations with the purpose of addressing issues of family stress, mental health and suicide prevention.
“This group will take a more comprehensive approach to look at all resources to improve communication for families in trouble,” said Harry Griffith, superintendent of .
The group includes:
- Lake Forest Deputy Police Chief Glenn Burmeister, who also is a member of the recently formed Lake County Suicide Prevention Task Force;
- Kathy O’Hara, a student services coordinator at who also serves as a trustee on the ;
- representatives from , , and , social workers and .
“We wanted to help get this group started, and they will build the framework of how they proceed from there,” Griffith said.
In addition, the high school’s crisis team comprised of Principal Jay Hoffmann and two crisis team members will meet with their counterparts from Barrington High School on March 15 to compare available programs and initiatives. Barrington High School dealt with five suicides over a three-year period (2007-10) involving both students and staff members.
- Suicide Outbreak: How to Spot Warning Signs
- Suicide Outbreak: Group Works to Raise Awareness
- Mental Health Experts Partner with BHS
John Maher, a social worker at who will make the trip to Barrington, said this is an opportunity to look at what Barrington implemented and whether it can work in Lake Forest.
"When you work with teens and those struggling with depression, you are always trying to see what you can do, what are the next best steps," said Maher, who has been a social worker at the high school for a decade.
Maher said Barrington set up a suicide hot line and initiated programs focused on identifying students at risk.
"We want to see what they did," Maher said. "They had a consultant come in that they seem happy with, so we want to hear why."
While the emphasis is always on looking at whether programs are meeting their goals, Maher noted two recent teen deaths create "more of an impetus to do it quicker."
In addition to devoting last Friday's institute day to Dr. Jochem, Maher said the high school schedules periodic speakers to address various issues with faculty and staff during "Lunch and Learners."
"We bring in people and make them available to the faculty, have them speak at three different times in a day on an array of topics," Maher explained.
Maher believes has created open channels for parents to access if they sense trouble with their teenager or other teenagers. He noted that last week, the counseling department handled between 150 and 200 students.
"We have four social workers, and parents can talk to any one of them with concerns, and they will follow through on it," Maher said. "If they can't initially talk to the right person, it will get to the right person.”