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Teen's suicide leads to review of district's youth support

Sea to Sky educators want to ensure young people have the support they need

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The suicide of 15-year-old Amanda Todd of Coquitlam, who killed herself on Oct. 10 after enduring years of online bullying, blackmail, assault and sexual harassment — and who made a video pleading for respect and tolerance — has educators in the region looking at their own responses to bullying.

Marilyn Caldwell, Instructor of Education for Sea to Sky School District No. 48, said that the school district was reminded to be vigilant in supporting and seeking out vulnerable youngsters in the region whose lives are hurt by bullying. "We're certainly prepared to work with students or families with any needs they might have at this time in light of that," she said.

Caldwell added that two days after Todd's death the school district brought into play their regular responses to a critical incident.

"Even though Amanda didn't live in our school district, because of the nature of the media we're all in one big community. We assessed our school communities for students who were concerned or at risk, whether those students be in anywhere on a range of needs," Caldwell said.

This past week, the school district was overseeing a follow up for school counsellors, youth care workers and principals looking at how their pupils are doing and responding as needed.

"So far the students are expressing sadness about this loss, but other than that we'd say that none of our students are at risk, particularly," she added.

The Superintendent of Schools, Lisa McCullough, said they were looking at both the issue of bullying and that of vulnerability in children and making sure that parents, teachers and youth know about the school district programs and strategies, from the Ministry of Education level down to that of the classroom.

"We have a very proactive approach both bullying and vulnerability related to suicide risk. We are also ready to respond to specific incidences, which is what we are doing right now," McCullough said.

"The reason for our reaction is certainly out of sadness and grief for the young lady and her family, but we know that sometimes these things can trigger responses in other youth."

To that end, the principal of Don Ross Secondary School in Squamish, Nick Pascuzzi, sent out an email to parents about their own response to Todd's suicide. In it, he noted that his students had listened to a speaker on Internet security the week before.

"The staff at Don Ross Secondary would like to take this opportunity to let all of our students know that they are never alone. If at any time, for whatever reason, you are feeling alone, bullied or unsafe please let someone know. Let your parents know, your homeroom teacher know or any adult in our school building know. We can help, but the first and most crucial step is to let someone know," Pascuzzi wrote.

Young people who need help or someone to speak to are encouraged to call the Kids Help Phone, a 24-hour line, at 1-800-668-6868 or report bullying anonymously at www.psstworld.com/node/add/report-it.

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