Suicide prevention: final of a three-part series
Saying he wanted “to tackle the elephant in the room about Farragut High School,” new principal Dr. John Bartlett’s phrase was understood by every one of the community leaders, fellow administrators, teachers and the six high achieving FHS students at a special gathering.
The elephant: suicides among FHS students in recent years.
“This community is hurting — our kids are hurting,” Bartlett said during this luncheon/discussion in the FHS library classroom Friday afternoon, Sept. 20. “… They’ve had three years of tragedy in this building.
“We’re addressing that — we’re going to address that through some very intentional things,” he added.
With numbers already available, “I think we’ve done 30 suicide assessments this year in seven weeks,” Bartlett said. “We’ve had to call Mobile Crisis between five and 10 times already.
“… A lot of our kids come to school with things that are hard to unpack,” the new principal added.
Barlett said he’s advised FHS students, in what he labeled a “Tier One” approach, “they’re responsibile for each other; they’re responsible for the person next to them, in front of them.”
“I think they’re doing that. … That’s why we’re getting those students identified.”
He referenced a “Tier Two” approach, “which is group things” including “anxiety groups … if somebody needs a little more attention,” Bartlett said. “… If something (bad) happens in their life,” convince them suicide “is not an option.”
As for a more inviting atmosphere, the Commons is home to various lunchtime games.
“We try to do music in the cafeteria every Friday for kids,” Bartlett said. “They kind of enjoy it. It’s all sing-along music.”
Suicide detection/prevention information costing “about $4,300” was purchased and will become available throughout the school beginning in January, Bartlett said, “so everything is there for teachers so they don’t have to become social, emotional or psychology experts.”
As for how to choose teachers sensitive to teenage desperation, “We hire the heart first,” the FHS principal said. “ … I can teach people how to be good teachers if their heart’s in the right place.”
However, “I can’t fix somebody who doesn’t like kids,” he added.
Overall, “We’ve had a good year this year so far,” Bartlett said. “We’ve had seven weeks of very positive relationships with kids, and we’re going to continue that.”
The new principal said having such a distinguished gathering was a first step toward “developing partnerships with the community.
“I have a track record at my old school (principal at Bearden High School): for 10 years most parents (looking for a high school) who came there and met with me and walked around the building, they found a house in the Bearden zone,” Bartlett added. “Why? Because I sold Bearden to them.”
Cosmetics a key
As for cosmetics, “It’s not just what we do, it’s how our building looks,” Bartlett said about being sensitive to trash and taking pride in the landscaping, for example, especially along the school’s main entrance.
“Has the door been cleaned? What do the walls say,” he said.
On the walls throughout the school are new, framed photographs, drawings, paintings or illustrations with quoted phrases “that say something” to students, Bartlett said — plus a new “Admirals” mural in the Commons.