School district implements mandatory suicide training

When the staff at Soldotna High School discussed suicide as part of a newly mandated training requirement, all of them shared a personal story.

“We let the teachers discuss experiences in their lives; people who had either committed or talked about committing (suicide). And walking around the room listening to the conversations, there were a lot stories about students or friends … who had affected their lives,” said Erin Neisinger, Soldotna High School counselor.

A Senate bill passed earlier this year during the legislative session prompted school districts across Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, to initiate mandatory suicide training for secondary school employees. 

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, sponsored Senate Bill 137, the Jason Flatt Act. The bill requires at least two hours of training for school personnel who work with students in grades seven through 12; it became law on Aug. 21.

The Legislature appropriated $450,000 toward school-based suicide prevention efforts for fiscal year 2013, said Kate Burkhart, executive director of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, in an email.

“It’s the first time that I’m aware of, or at least in a really long time, that any money for suicide prevention has come to the (Alaska) Department of Education,” said Sharon Fishel, counseling and suicide prevention coordinator at the state Department of Education & Early Development.

The suicide rate for Alaskans age 15-24 was 46 per 100,000 people in 2010. Nationally, the rates are recorded at different age groups, but the gap is apparent, with 7.8 per 100,000 people for age 15-19 and 12.5 per 100,000 people for age 20-24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prior to the Senate bill’s passage, the school district’s teachers did not receive suicide training, said Margaret Griffin, another Soldotna High School counselor.

Until last month, the state lacked approved suicide-prevention materials. Lawmakers chose the Jason Foundation — from which SB137 got its name — to meet the two-hour requirement, and the state sent out the organization’s materials to each secondary school in late July.

School administrators within the borough focused this first year of mandatory training on awareness, as a stigma is often associated with suicide, Neisinger said.

“Doing this training grants the staff more skills and confidence to say something about (suicide); a lot of times people aren’t comfortable addressing the problem with students,” she said.

The school district has had in-house protocols for students it believes are at-risk of harming themselves or others established for some time.

 

The Jason Foundation materials are separated into seven modules. The first module is a series of videos about suicide awareness and outreach. Staff can watch the videos and take an online quiz afterward.

 

Neisinger and Griffin decided to facilitate a discussion about the module at their high school.

 

“It was a bit more personal than just pressing play on a video,” Griffin said.

 

Teachers were receptive to the seminar approach, they said. Following the training, teachers emailed the counselors and thanked them for taking the training one step further than required.

 

Griffin said her husband, a local middle school teacher, and other district staff have reacted positively toward the video-and-quiz format.

 

Looking forward, Neisinger said she would like to examine other options and involve students in the training — the Jason Foundation also offers materials for students.

 

She would like to look into the web-based Kognito At-Risk materials, another program approved in September as the result of the a joint advocacy effort of the Prevention Council, the Alaska Mental Health Board and the Alaska Association of Student Governments.

 

Kognito uses virtual role-playing scenarios to train personnel on how to identify and engage students who are contemplating suicide. But the new law requires suicide training for middle school as well as high school employees, and Kognito is intended for use only in high schools.

 

“I want to look at Kognito and compare the two,” Neisinger said.

 

An issue with the current program is its focus on a single module. Neisinger hopes that throughout the school year, they will reference back to the Jason Foundation materials to gauge its effectiveness, she said.

 

Overall, the counselors agreed that the teachers appreciated the new training.

 

“We have to do all these mandatory trainings each year, and we didn’t want them to see it as a negative thing, as just another training,” Griffin said. “We wanted it to be positive and meaningful.”

 

Jerzy Shedlock is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

 

More in News

A diagram presented by Teresa Jacobson Gregory illustrates the proposed extension of the Beachcomber LLC gravel pit and the impact it may have on the surrounding state recreation area. The red markers indicate the current gravel mining area, and the orange represents the area the extension may allow for mining if approved. (Image courtesy of Teresa Jacobson Gregory)
KPB Assembly to consider gravel-pit ordinance revisions

Proposed gravel pit ordinance follows Superior Court ruling that planning commission can deny permits.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meets on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
School board works to highlight students’ voices

Within the first hour of the meeting students would have up to five minutes each to address the board about any issue

Furniture awaits use in a bedroom at a cold weather shelter set to open next month on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021 in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Half of beds at Nikiski shelter are occupied

The shelter opened at the end of December 2021

A group of community members gather together on Thursday, Jan. 6 at WKFL Park to protest the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on the one-year anniversary of the attack. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
South Peninsula residents turn out to ‘defend democracy’

Members of the Homer community and the Unitarian Universalists of Homer gathered… Continue reading

This image available under the Creative Commons license shows the outline of the state of Alaska filled with the pattern of the state flag. The state on Thursday reported a modest population growth between April 2020 and July 2021. It's the first time since 2016 the state has reported a population increase. (
State reports small population growth

Net migration still negative, but not as negative.

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Health officials: Some monoclonal treatments widely ineffective against omicron

The new guidance comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

State Sen. Peter Micciche fields questions from constituents during a joint chamber luncheon on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022 at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
State Senate president lays out vision for upcoming session

Micciche seeks path forward on budget, looks to pass legislation on fishing permits, alcohol regulations

Snow covers the sign on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, at the South Peninsula Hospital Bartlett Street COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinic in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Local COVID-19 alert rate quadruples

State alert level per 100,000 people now is above 1,100.

Most Read