Editorial: Community must step up to help ‘different’ kids

Even if firearms restrictions were approved, which will be a tough fight, leaders are left wondering what more they can do to prevent such a Newtown tragedy in their own community.
Don HeinzmanWhy wait for the government to find a solution to attack such a complex problem and prevent a Newtown massacre?

There’s merit in trying to prevent young “different” troubled people in the community from doing the unthinkable.

One profile common to most of the shooters is they are young, intelligent, and in some cases loners craving for attention

We’re struck by the fact that once again former students of the shooter didn’t know much about him. One former classmate said, he wasn’t connected to other kids… Another said he was “weird since he was five years old” and another said, “He obviously was not well.”

Perhaps one strategy for a community and a school system is to get involved with the so-called “different” students and help them through their mental health issues.

Is it possible for a community to mobilize resources and maybe even assign mentors to the so-called “different” students?

For example, At Roosevelt Middle School, members of the Prairie Oak Community Church volunteer to be adult role models for students, along with any adult school staff members.

High school officials know who the troubled kids are. Terrence Bizal, Elk River High School principal, says school officials need to identify those troubled and different students, some with mental health issues, consult with the parents, create a plan, work with mental health therapists in the schools and involve the community.

Dr. Nita Kumar is the mental health consultant at the Anoka-Hennepin School District that has nearly 40,000 students. She says they are seeing more students with stressors in their lives, such as academic, socio-economic and problems in their homes.

Teachers red-flag students with multiple stressors and refer them for help from counselors, social workers and school psychologists.  In more severe cases, parents are notified and other treatment is recommended.

One way the community and a neighbor can help is by taking an interest in a child, perhaps teach them a new skill and how to play sports so they can feel good about themselves.

Kumar emphasizes that one person at the school and outside the school can make a big difference. So can one art teacher who takes a special interest in a child and builds up their resilience.

Fifty churches in the school district are willing to work with families in need.

Rotary clubs have Strive programs, where club members work all year long with senior students who need help to graduate. It is having amazing results.

The local YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and other youth support groups could be involved in supporting the school’s plan for the troubled student.

One area for the community to consider is sheltering homeless students. In the Anoka-Hennepin school district last year 600 students were homeless part of that year.

It’s asking too much of a school system to solve all the problems of the “different” students, especially now when school budgets are being cut.

If the total community were to help the disturbed students, perhaps it could prevent a Newtown.

In this case it does take a village to raise the student with mental health issues, without labeling them and maintaining their privacy and dignity.

Editor’s note: Don Heinzman is a columnist and editorial writer for ECM Publishers, Inc.

  • Erin777

    One problem with the logic here is the idea that “high schools know who the troubled kids are.” I disagree. Certain kids probably display behaviors or issues that would seem to indicate that they have emotional issues, and some of them might. But many others are just quiet kids who don’t fit in. How often have we heard after a tragedy that “I had no idea he was capable of this — he just kept to himself.” And even well-liked, involved kids can have serious emotional issues. There is a fundamental problem with the “troubled student” label, which can too often be applied to anyone who looks, dresses or acts differently. I don’t think I have to add that this labeling and ostracizing of the “other” is a major problem in the Anoka-Hennepin school district in particular — I know as a graduate of that school system how hard it could be to be different there and I saw kids struggle BECAUSE they were labeled. Would being forced to participate in a mentoring program for “troubled” or “at-risk” youth change that? It may actually make the situation worse. I hope Don and others think harder about ways to do what this piece aims to do without “labeling them and maintaining their privacy and dignity.”