The Palo Alto High School administration and community are providing wide-ranging support options following the death by suicide on Monday of a Paly student.
These services include several multiple layers of support services and enhanced communication with Paly families. The goal of these efforts is to send a simple message to the entire Paly community: “We’re here for you,” Principal Kim Diorio said.
Perhaps the most innovative support tool made available to students is a new email communication service, which Diorio introduced in a letter sent out to the entire Paly community Monday night. Students can use firstname.lastname@example.org to refer friends that they think are in need of professional assistance, or to write out their own thoughts and feelings and receive support.
“We need our students to tell us when they’re concerned about a friend,” Diorio said. “When students are able to talk to us or tell us that they’re worried about somebody, we can help.”
Diorio also emphasized the importance of communication among community members, including parents and students, and encouraged students to seek help from adults and friends when necessary.
“Like most families, we unconditionally love each other,” Diorio wrote in the letter. “What unites us and makes us a family is our unconditional love of our students.”
The school’s immediate response to the events on Monday morning included a crisis response team, which consisted of Paly guidance counselors and counselors from external agencies such as Kara and Adolescent Counseling Services. These specialists met with over 200 students over the course of the two days following the event.
“Those extra providers are also able to talk to students that just come up to the guidance office or are referred through teachers and other students,” Diorio said.
Several students are also making an efforts to reach out to their fellow peers and offer support. The Unity Club hosted a “safe zone” during Lunch earlier today. Diorio attended the event, along with several other Paly faculty members.
“We want to give students a space to talk about what’s going because we know suicide is a conversation that is very hard to start,” junior Unity Club vice president Siggi Bengston said. “The main message we want to get across to Paly is we need change. There have been too many young lives lost in just this past school year, and it’s time for something different.”
In addition to addressing student welfare, Diorio also noted that the administration is making a great effort to reach out and provide support to teachers. Eight substitute teachers were available on Monday and Tuesday to step into class to allow teachers to take a break. A school psychologist assisted the classes in which the deceased student was enrolled, according to Diorio.
“We’ve been keeping our pulse on how the teachers are doing and coping, and making sure they have the support and counseling that they might need,” Diorio said.
Several Paly parents were also invited to campus this week to engage in conversation with students and remind them of the counseling resources available.
“We have parents on campus … helping suggest that students go talk to adults up in the guidance area or counselors if they need that support,” Diorio said.
Diorio hopes to further engage parents in the conversation and plans to host parent events in the future. Among these events include an open house Coffee with Paly administrators earlier this morning, hosted by the Parent Teacher Student Association, where parents were encouraged to come talk in an informal environment.
“We know that they [parents] are concerned, want to help out and want to talk,” Diorio said.
Diorio reiterated the main message that the community is here to support everyone.
“If you need support or help, please talk with any of your teachers, your teacher adviser or any staff member you see wandering about,” Diorio wrote. “We’re here for you.”
A list of school and community resources are available on the Paly website Crisis Resources page and the PAUSD Counseling Services page. If you need immediate assistance, the Santa Clara County Suicide and Crisis Hotline is available at 1-855-278-4204 at any time. These numbers are also available on the back of student ID cards. The new email@example.com email is accessible to all students if you are concerned about a friend or wish to receive support. If you feel you or someone you know needs immediate support, please call 911.