June 25, 2016

Mostly sunny

Brunswick teen cheers suicide law in wake of friend’s passing

A Brunswick High student who has worked to raise awareness of the problem of teenage suicides is cheering a new state law that requires teachers and other school staff to be trained in suicide prevention.

“It’s almost sickening that that kind of training wasn’t already required by law,” said Kevin Stankiewicz, a 17-year-old senior.

Kevin Stankiewicz

Stankiewicz has been involved in suicide prevention since losing a family friend to suicide 3½ years ago. His friend, Joseph Anielski, was a senior at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

Stankiewicz said no one expected the 6-foot-6 athlete to take his own life.

“When Joe passed, that was an eye-opening thing to me — that suicide is real and it can affect anybody,” he said. “Anybody can be someone who commits suicide.”

Anielski’s mother, state Rep. Marlene Anielski, led the charge for state legislation that would require teachers and staff in public schools to get training on suicide prevention.

The bill was passed earlier this year and on Tuesday, Anielski and Stankiewicz stood alongside ex-Ohio State University President Gordon Gee and Attorney General Mike DeWine at a news conference in Columbus to draw attention to the new law.

Joseph Anielski

Stankiewicz said the Anielskis are family friends and he always looked up to Joe as a big brother. The two families often celebrated three-day weekend picnics and New Year’s Eve holidays together. Stankiewicz said he was shocked when Joe died.

“He was an athlete and he wasn’t picked on,” he said. “It really woke me up to the idea that a kid smiling in the hallway could be a kid that goes home and is dealing with some issues.”

Stankiewicz said teachers — not just counselors — need to be trained to look for signs a student is distressed. He said four out of five people who complete suicide exhibit signs of depression.

The new law requires teachers, nurses, counselors and other school staff to get youth suicide prevention training, which will count toward professional development training.

Stankiewicz said his friend showed signs of depression, but no one knew what to look for.

“If someone’s writing starts to shift in language arts, and it gets dark, that’s something the teacher should talk to the student about,” he said. “In school, sometimes students are spending more time with their teachers than they are with their parents.

“You see your teachers every day and I think it’s incredibly important they pay attention to how you’re acting and how you’re talking with other students.”

Stankiewicz and Marlene Anielski have worked to bring “Ski boxes” into classrooms in the Brunswick and Medina school districts. The boxes, named after a nickname Joseph Anielski’s friends gave him, give students the opportunity to leave letters in a lockbox at school during the day.

Counselors check the boxes every day and students are encouraged to leave information about themselves or another student having difficulty, said Stankiewicz, who wrote about the boxes for the school newspaper and encouraged their implementation at Brunswick High School.

“Students who might feel uncomfortable talking about it can leave a note,” he said. “Counselors then follow up with them.”

The issue of teenage suicides has drawn increased attention in Medina County, which has seen four children under the age of 18 kill themselves in the past two years, according to statistics kept by the county’s Health Department.

The death last November of a Medina Township youngster — 14-year-old Deven Baab — triggered a five-month police investigation into whether staff members at Medina’s Claggett Middle School acted properly. The investigation ended with no charges filed.

Brunswick Schools Superintendent Michael Mayell said staff members already are given some suicide training. He said his school board would be reviewing the district’s training procedures to make sure they meet the new state guidelines.

He praised the work of Stankiewicz in working to prevent suicide.

“Brunswick kids constantly amaze me with their caring for others,” Mayell said. “I’m not surprised we have compassionate kids like (Stankiewicz) who want to serve as role models and reach out.”

Kris Quallich, director of educational services for Medina Schools, said in addition to the “Ski boxes,” the district has optional suicide prevention training for staff using the “More than sad” training programs developed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“We’ve had 50 to 60 teachers sign up each of the past two years we offered it,” Quallich said.

She said this year the district will conduct three training segments on suicide prevention and warning signs through Public School Works, a company that provides training to teachers.

“We’ve chosen three training modules on the basic signs of suicide, educator’s ethical responsibilities and warning signs of suicide,” she said.

All staff will complete the training this year under the requirements of the new law. Quallich said the school worked with parents and the teachers to set aside a day Sept. 9 to allow the teachers to complete the suicide prevention training and other required training.

“In addition to the parents, we also work with teens on preventing depression in health class, and we’ve presented programs on how teens can help other teens,” she said.

Under the new law, the Jason Foundation, a suicide prevention foundation, will provide free training materials to Ohio schools.

Districts are free to decide how and what materials they choose to implement in their training.

The Jason Foundation was founded by Clark Flatt of Tennessee, who lost his youngest son, Jason, to suicide in 1997. The Jason Flatt Act was passed in Tennessee in 2007 and became the most inclusive suicide prevention in-service training for teachers, according to the Jason Foundation. Ten other states since have passed laws similar to the one Ohio approved in March.

Stankiewicz welcomed the new training requirements, but said he plans to keep talking about suicide prevention after high school.

“This is one issue where talking helps,” he said. “In Brunswick and really everywhere, I’d like to see schools be more outward and vocal about suicide prevention and letting the students know they’re there for them.”

Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or lgenson@medina-gazette.com.

Loren Genson About Loren Genson

Loren Genson was The Gazette's senior reporter. From August 2012 through September 2015, she covered Brunswick city and state and national government. To contact The Gazette, call the managing editor at (330) 721-4065.