An urgent message about school students’ safety

Ron Craig, Crime Prevention/Community Policing Officer

        I’ve been writing this column for more than two years now, and no other article has been as urgent as this one. Locally, we are facing a near-crisis of students experiencing mental health issues.
        In the past couple of months, our school resource officer, Bob Roe, has interacted with many students who are dealing with a wide variety of mental health issues. While one may guess these are most likely high school students, many of them have been middle school students. It’s possible that some of these students are expressing these feelings because they see the attention others are getting, however, there have been too many of these incidents to think a majority fall into this “copy-cat” category.
        As a certified school resource officer myself, I can think of no other time in the 15 or so years I have been an SRO that these issues have been as rampant. There appears to be a variety of reasons behind this sharp increase in such cases, but it would be a mistake to think that the current COVID-19 crisis is not playing a direct or indirect part.
        Students today are facing a lot of stress. Many families are struggling during these times. There are many single-parent families in which a mother or father, or both, are absent, which has led to a sharp increase in the number of kids being raised by grandparents or guardians. These guardians deserve much credit for taking on this role.
        Now, add in the problems associated with the coronavirus, and it’s no wonder these problems are growing every day.
        While Lake Schools are still in full session at the time of the writing of this article, the threat looms every day that state or local officials will mandate total or partial virtual learning. It is clear that virtual learning is not the same as classes in a school.
        Kids need that regular contact with teachers and their friends. Students know how important this is, and many fear having this taken away from them, further leading to their anxiety. Add the fact that school is where some students rely on getting a complete and nutritious meal, and the problems just keep adding up.
        You may be one of the people who want to compare students’ lives today with when you grew up, but that is like comparing apples to oranges. It just isn’t the same or even close if you are 25 years old or older. Technology has exploded, and this also plays a big part in how students are affected.
        The statistics are alarming.
        Lake Local Schools Superintendent Jim Witt says the number of students at his school that are interacting with school counselors has increased tremendously in recent months. Many of these students are expressing feelings of helplessness, anxiety, loneliness and isolation.
        According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, about 1.5 billion students worldwide are not in a classroom, mostly due to the virus. This has led to problems with mental and physical health, development, learning, behavior and families’ economic stability.
        More importantly, mental health visits for children ages 5-11 are up 24 percent and are up 31 percent for ages 12-17. The CDC has said children with existing mental health issues are at even higher risk.
        Statistics show suicides among children has increased 280 percent in recent years.
        Steve Poiry, a former SRO at Lake and who is currently a bus driver for the district, says he has seen a recent disturbing pattern in kids of all ages expressing thoughts of anxiety, fear and hopelessness. He told me he has even heard students saying they think they are living in the time of the apocalypse.
        As someone who cares deeply for kids and their welfare, Steve joins school officials in efforts to always be on the lookout for distressed students. He also points out many of the school activities students look most forward to have been canceled.
        If you are raising a child, there are signs to watch for. Mr. Witt says parents and guardians should spend as much time with their kids as possible.
        Adults should look for changes in a child’s behavior and also monitor his or her online activities.
        Adults can promote emotional safety by letting their children know it’s normal for them to have certain feelings. Help children build strong coping skills and let them know you are open to discussing issues. Some of these issues may be uncomfortable for some adults to discuss. Turn to professionals, such as school counselors and mental health officials, if you need help.
        Try to keep normal daily functions as routine as possible. Discuss coronavirus precautions being taken in the schools and in the community to help things return to normal as soon as possible.
        Also, please give a shout out to teachers and other school officials for the great work they are doing in these troubled times. They are in uncharted waters and are working hard to educate our children. They deserve our support.
        In summary, what kids need most is for them to know you are there for them.
        This article is a public service from the Community Policing/Crime Prevention Division of the Lake Township Police Department. Township residents may obtain further information on crime prevention and public safety topics by contacting Ron Craig, crime prevention specialist/community policing officer at 419-481-6354.
        Editor’s note: Steve Poiry, a former school resource officer at Lake Local Schools, and Lake Schools’ Superintendent Jim Witt both contributed to this article.


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