Douglas County builds community network to support students
CASTLE ROCK – The rainy, fall weather seemed appropriate as principals from across the Douglas County School District (DCSD) gathered with their counterparts from local churches to discuss a somber topic – teen suicide – and how we, as a community, can work together to prevent it.
The meeting at DCSD’s headquarters on October 6 was an opportunity for the District to educate the faith community regarding its preventative and intervention measures. The District has a multi-tiered system of support for students. The most intensive level of support is provided to those in crisis.
Universal: Supports afforded to all students
Targeted: Supports provided to a targeted population of students who require a higher level of assistance than those who benefit from universal supports alone
Intensive: Supports afforded to a population of students who require a higher level of assistance than those who benefit from universal and targeted supports alone.
DCSD Superintendent Dr. Liz Fagen opened the session, explaining how the District has placed safety, including psychological safety as the District’s first priority.
“I am so happy that our Superintendent has prioritized our work,” explained Germain. “I’ve been in districts where it is not prioritized and we did not have opportunities to do things like we did today, a chance to reach out to our community.”
Germain and his staff, including Team Up, are working to implement a variety of universal prevention programs, but know that it will take wide support from the community to protect Douglas County students.
“I think everyone knows this is not a challenge we can solve single-handedly. As a District and as educators, we know that we only see our kids seven and half hours a day and 176 days a year,” said DCSD’s Chief Student Advocacy Officer Dr. Jason Germain, who oversees the District’s mental health staff. “No one can do it on their own, but if we work collaboratively and together, we will have a much better shot of making sure we catch kids.”
The Douglas County pastors whole-heartedly agreed. Many of those in attendance have youth pastors who work directly with Douglas County youth and some have struggled with handling teen suicides and other deaths in our community over the past few years.
“We think this is an all hands on deck, for the faith community,” said Jake Meuli, a local businessman and Ponderosa High School graduate, who has volunteered to coordinate a series of these types of interactions between the faith community and government agencies to address local issues.
He says the churches are realizing that it is crucial to take care of “their backyards,” in addition to their typical mission projects.
“We are doing a lot of stuff overseas. We are doing a lot of stuff in the inner city, but we can’t let another young person hurt themselves,” Meuli said.
The meeting with DCSD was the fourth time Douglas County’s faith community has gathered over the past year to address local issues. It all began about a year ago, when the pastors met with the director of Douglas County Human Services, Daniel Makelky. As a result of that meeting, church communities helped recruit foster parents, engage the County’s aging population, investigate the possibility of a winter shelter for homeless families and support food banks.
Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the District has met with the faith community, and the goal was simply to make connections within the community.
“Ultimately, if nothing more happens than starting a conversation about something that people don’t typically enjoy talking about, I would be satisfied,” Germain said. “The more conversations we have and the more open we are with our kids in speaking about suicide and what is impacting other youth, the more likely we are to start to build the relationships that could down the line, prevent a student to make a choice to die by suicide.”
Germain, however, believes that the connections made at the meeting will result in a long-term community network, providing better overall support for Douglas County children.