Teen suicide focus of Aprende ‘Stand Up, Speak Up’ launch

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From left: Terry Roe, Chandler city councilmember; Gina Godbehere, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning Council; Chandler Police Chief Sean Duggan; Laura Rowley, Aprende school psychologist; Brook Norris, Aprende school counselor; Sarah Ruf, Arizona Developmental Disabilities Planning; former mayor Jay Tibshraeny; and honoree Renee Kory, principal of Aprende Middle School. – Photo courtesy Kyrene School District

By Diana Whittle

Students at Aprende Middle School are taking a stand against teen suicide and self harm.  Though it’s a difficult topic, the kids bravely accepted the challenge to develop a campaign inspired by an Arizona-based initiative, “Stand Up, Speak Up, and Save a Life.”

Selected Aprende 7th and 8th grade students, chosen as leaders by teachers, counselors and administrators, created a bracelet with the Stand Up campaign name on the outside and a phone number on the inside to help any of their classmates who may experience emotional crisis.

The students also created videos, which air on campus, to create a more open culture and encourage conversation about specific stressors in their lives, all in the hope it will lead troubled students to seek support to solve their issues.

Aprende Principal Renee Kory said that the program was very effective last year, and the campaign has carried over to this year with various tactics.

“The students created messages, posters and video announcements about the importance of observing or reporting when they know a friend is hurting or in trouble.”

Kory was recognized at a recent Chandler City Council meeting for her role in bringing the Stand Up initiative to Aprende. In addition, then- Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny issued a proclamation declaring January as Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Month.

At Aprende, Principal Kory says students demonstrate their concern for one another and are acting on what they observe.

“Since last year, our students’ reporting has increased to one to five reports a day from one to two reports a week. This is the number-one way we get information about students in trouble, or who make poor choices at school that compromise safety, and other students who have thoughts of suicide or who engage in self-harm.”

Leadership students at Aprende make sure to wear the bracelets all the time and continue to pass them out on campus, keeping the message visible for kids to report anything that doesn’t seem right with fellow students, from bullying to depression.

The principal says they’ve gotten dozens of tips since the bracelets were first handed out, many generated by social media posts. At the school, teachers have a tiered response system in place depending on what’s reported.

Kory admits cutting is a big problem seen among students in recent months. “Probably on a weekly basis our counselors are seeing someone who is engaging in self-harm or having thoughts of suicide. So it’s a pervasive issue, a pervasive problem that we definitely need to pay attention to,” she said.

And, these problems are widespread. In the last two years, more than 30 students in the East Valley have committed suicide. Kory says they’ve lost a current or former Aprende student every year the last six years.

“Teachers and our counselors also are very aware of and committed to supporting the student initiatives and messages of Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life.”

Other schools in the Kyrene district also are interested in becoming involved with the program, even at the elementary level.

Last year was the first that 15 student leaders attended the Speak Up conference, then brought the message back to the Aprende campus. This year, Aprende students will be joined by students from the other middle schools in the district.

The Stand Up conference for students in Arizona was developed in 2017 by three women who saw the need to work directly with kids to involve them in solutions to reduce the number of suicides. It attracted about 900 attendees.

In 2018, Aprende administrators learned about the program and attended, along with 3,500 others. The third annual conference, held recently at Grand Canyon University, drew an impressive crowd.

In addition to the Stand Up efforts, Aprende is partnering with members of an “Aztec Strong” group from Corona del Sol High School who also focus on suicide prevention.

“Last year, we worked in conjunction with Aztec Strong, and members came to the school and spoke to our students,” said Kory.

“Then, our eighth graders from last year made a commitment to be a part of Aztec Strong when they matriculate to Corona as freshmen.”

During the year, the Speak Up, Stand Up students create regular announcements for students expressing their message about the importance of reporting, inclusion, empathy and peer support and leadership.

Information: speakstandsave.com.

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