Christine Schmidt has kind words for the junior high teacher who recently noticed that Schmidt’s seventh-grade son seemed distracted in class.
The teacher reached out to the young man, learned why he was upset and called to discuss the situation with Schmidt, of Bettendorf.
“I thought it was wonderful that the teacher noticed him and took extra steps to follow through,” Schmidt said.
The founder of the It's All Love, Only Love Coalition, she is the mother of Morgan Schmidt, who took her own life in 2014 when she was 12 years old.
The effort is an example of what happens when a caring teacher notices a difference in a student's behavior.
Schmidt firmly believes teachers and school officials would benefit from what is called Youth Mental Health First-Aid training. This is a one-day course that teaches adults about the signs of anxiety, depression and other issues that can lead to youth suicide.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Atlanta, suicide is a leading cause of death for youths, starting at 10 years old.
The Davenport Community School District is in the third year of a federal grant program called Project Aware. The initiative was disbursed to three school districts in Iowa: Davenport, Waterloo and Sioux City.
Farrah Roberts, the project's grant manager, and Ellen Reilly-Christie, learning support specialist, recently presented a program update to members of the Davenport School Board.
The two women are on a mission to provide the special first-aid training to as many people as possible in local school districts and in the general community. So far, they have worked in Davenport, North Scott and in Rock Island County. No sessions are planned for the rest of the month, but Reilly-Christie said they will start again in January.
The $2.54 million federal grant is spread over five years, or $508,000 per year. Most of the funds go to help the students pay for mental health services, Roberts said, except the grant does not cover medications.
"That is a big issue for our students," she said.
Most of the 268 children who are supported so far are uninsured or under-insured, with co-payments that are too expensive for their families.
The focus is on suicide prevention and intervention, and that’s what Schmidt most appreciates.
“We talk about suicide at home,” she said, and it's also expected that teachers, coaches, administrators would notice certain behaviors. “But if they haven’t had the training, how would they know?”
Iowa's recent move to privatize its Medicaid program has caused many disruptions in the system of coverage, Reilly-Christie said.
"But we can step right in to help with expenses," she said. It’s a simple matter to connect with Roberts and make the arrangements.
There is now at least one mental health therapist in each of Davenport’s school buildings, and they are helping "dozens and dozens of students,” Reilly-Christie said.
There has been a local decrease in the number of teen suicides, she said.
“We believe we have a positive impact on our community and telling kids there is hope, and there is help,” Reilly-Christie said. “We don’t plan to stop. Every year, new kids come into the program.”
Students who are mentally healthy have more success academically, Roberts said, and they tend to graduate from high school rather than drop out and are not likely to be involved in crimes.
T.J. Schneckloth, who is director of federal programs for Davenport, vouched for the grant program and offered examples of how it is effective.
He noted the tragedy involved.
"When you witness a child, who can manage themselves with proper care and medication, and when that is taken away, and the child goes crazy in school ... there's just nothing worse," Schneckloth said.
Davenport is in line with the rest of the United States, Reilly-Christie said, which shows that 20 percent of students, ages 13-18 years old, have or will be diagnosed with a serious mental health illness. Only about one-fifth of these youths get the treatment they need.
“We are putting a stake in the ground, telling the kids that it’s not OK to suffer alone, and there is help available,” she said. "The more adults we can educate on what to do, the more likely the students will get the help they need early on."