Seattle private school fosters strong ties with valley
Teenagers sometimes don’t want to tell a teacher or other adult they’re thinking about suicide. Sometimes, they can’t even tell their closest friend.
At a suicide-prevention training on Friday (May 10) at the Bush School’s Methow Valley campus on Lost River Road, Liberty Bell Junior-Senior High School students talked about the social stigma around suicide. Students think they might get in trouble if they confide in an adult. Or if they told another student, even a friend, they worry they could be judged or gossiped about.
The 16 Liberty Bell students in Mazama last week for the training are members of HOPES (Helping Our Peers End Suicide). Former Liberty Bell student Isabel Salas formed the school group three years ago to help other students after she attempted suicide twice and then got help that included inpatient care at a mental-health facility. She wanted to give students a safe, nonjudgmental peer group they could turn to for help.
Salas has since graduated, but the group she founded remains active, with 23 members in all. Most of the group’s members, including current president Kyleen Romero, came to the Bush School’s campus to receive training from a similar student organization at the Seattle school called the Student Wellness Center.
The Bush students took the Liberty Bell students through a training developed by Forefront, a suicide prevention program at the University of Washington.
“I actually learned a lot,” said Romero, a senior who joined HOPES last year. “I thought it was going to be a basic training, a review of what I had heard before.”
Romero said she was especially struck by the answer to a problem posed during the training: What if someone tells you they are thinking about killing themselves but asks you to keep it a secret?
“It was good to hear from the coordinator [Bush School counselor John Ganz] in a way that makes sense,” Romero said. “There are two options only: Either I’ll go tell (someone) myself, or I can go with you and help you.”
“That’s kind of missed a lot in this society,” Romero added. “You want your friend to feel safe, and you don’t want to break that trust, but it gets to the point where it’s too dangerous and you have to do something about it.”
Romero said HOPES and the group’s peers at Bush’s Student Wellness Center plan to hold similar sessions together in the future.
The Seattle private school makes a point of connecting with the local community. As Hilary Kaltenbach, the Methow campus’ program coordinator put it, “We are mindful of not coming over, playing and going home.”
Earlier last week, Bush School students consulted with Liberty Bell students about the local trails as the Bush students made short films to enter the upcoming Methow Trails Film Festival. In early March, Methow Valley second-graders spent a day on the campus in Mazama, learning from Bush middle-schoolers about how wildlife adapts to winter.
These Bush-Methow connections are the legacy of Ian Fair, the previous program director at the Bush School Methow campus who died in an avalanche in the mountains above Mazama on March 4, 2018.
“He was incredibly passionate about connecting the two communities,” said Steph Bennett, Fair’s partner, who helped create the Ian Fair Memorial Fund to support connections between students from the Bush School and local schools.
The foundation brings the two student groups together “to have educational experiences they would otherwise not have, through connecting to the environment,” Bennett said.
This even applies to a suicide-prevention workshop, she added.
“By being in a natural environment such as the Bush School, it sparks a different conversation, a different mindset, and a different openness that is not reached inside a classroom,” Bennett said.
“A lot of [Methow Valley] students never make it north or west of Winthrop,” Bennett went on to say. “Ian wanted to connect those students with a different, affluent group of students. It’s an amazing platform for them to learn from each other.”
Know the warning signs
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Washington state for people ages 10–14 and the second-leading cause of death for 15-to-34-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The warning signs of suicide can be hard to judge, especially among teenagers. But if the following behaviors are new, are increasing, or seem connected a recent painful event, then they could indicate a person is thinking about suicide:
• Showing rage, mood swings, agitation or reckless behavior
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
• Talking about feeling hopeless or trapped, or having no reason to live
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
• Searching online for methods of suicide or attempting to purchase a gun
If you or someone you know is thinking about killing themselves, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.