Two KSU Stark students are asking fellow students to sign a banner or provide cards, notes and art work expressing support.
JACKSON TWP. The messages are basic: You're not alone. People care.
Two seniors at Kent State University Stark campus — Michaela Morris and Haley Walker — want to help Jackson Memorial Middle School students hear those messages. This week they are asking fellow students to sign a banner or provide cards, notes and art work expressing support for the district.
The effort comes weeks after a Jackson Memorial Middle School student brought a rifle to the school, intending to shoot other students. Instead, the 13-year-old turned the rifle on himself and died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Thoughts of teenagers killing themselves already had Morris and Walker, students in the KSU Stark honors program, contemplating steps they could take to help teens understand their lives are valuable. A string of suicides involving students in the Perry Local District, where Walker attended, and other schools prompted the effort, which took on urgency after the Jackson shooting.
Morris and Walker said they hope to address the sadness students might be experiencing and offer some support. They hope that hearing from college students who only a few years ago were in high school and middle school will speak to the Jackson students on a personal level.
"We want them to know it does get better and we are with them," Morris said.
"Absolutely," Walker said.
A goal of the honors program at Kent State is to help students become engaged citizens and move beyond the classroom, said Leslie Heaphy, associate professor of history and honors program director.
"It gives the students a much better connection to the community around them," Heaphy said.
When Morris and Walker graduate, they both hope to work with children. Morris, a Hoover High graduate, is a public health major and wants to work in mental health programs for children. Walker, a human development and family studies major, plans to work with troubled youth and then pursue a medical career.
Morris currently is in an AmeriCorps program that helps area high school students in Stark, Summit and Wayne counties develop community service projects. Each week she meets with about 100 students from 10 different school districts. In some cases, the students feel they aren't getting enough mental and emotional support, she said.
Morris and Walker both believe school districts need to bolster the number of counselors available to help students cope with mental health issues. While some cite bullying as a source for problems teenagers face, Morris and Walker believe the issue is more complicated. Someone can suffer from depression and commit suicide without being bullied, they said.
They hope that schools eventually can play a bigger role in helping students work through mental health issues. A more individualized approach is needed and students need to talk with someone more than once, Walker said. "It's an ongoing process."
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