Following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School last November, the Penn Manor School District in Lancaster County is taking a proactive approach to address mental health issues among its teenage students.
The program is completely voluntary and will be tested out with the incoming freshman class. Parents have to opt-in to allow their child to participate. If it is successful, the hope is to expand it to other grades.
The mass shooting at Sandy Hook that killed 26 people, 20 of them children, shocked the nation. Reports soon surfaced that the 20-year-old alleged shooter suffered from mental illness.
The tragedy prompted Penn Manor School District officials to begin talks about the difficult issue of recognizing and addressing mental health issues in young people.
“We’re about education, our specialty isn’t mental health, it isn’t counseling and therapy, but we see everyday, examples of students who are really struggling with things in their personal life, in their home life,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Leichliter.
The district is partnering with Samaritan Counseling Center to offer TeenHope, a program that will assess students’ mental health. During a health class, students will take a survey looking for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies.
“The school is not going to have access to the information and the results,” Leichliter said. “It’s going to be kept by the counseling center and shared with the parents.”
If a teen is identified as at-risk, parents will also have the option of getting access to counseling services.
Sharon Reinhardt has a daughter going into the 9th grade at Penn Manor. She’s not sure yet if she’ll opt into the program.
“I think it’s probably a good idea, because so much is happening in the schools today,” she said. “I’ll talk to my daughter and my son and see how they feel about it and go from there.”
Half of the students will take the survey in the fall, the other half in the spring. Parents whose children are in the fall group, should expect to receive a letter in the mail in the coming weeks about program.
Lancaster Mennonite School is planning on launching TeenHope in the spring.