DA Hosts Event on Mental Health, Violence in Schools

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Middlesex Partnerships for Youth, Inc., brought together more than 225 educators, clinicians, and law enforcement officials for a day-long conference Wednesday focusing on mental health and violence in schools.

SECURE XVI “The Intersection of Mental Health and Violence in Schools – A Perspective for Change” featured District Attorney Ryan; Daniel Jacobs, Ed.M., M.B.A., Psy.D. a clinical psychologist; and Peter Raffalli, M.D., a pediatric neurologist and director of Bullying and Cyberbullying Prevention and Advocacy Collaborative at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The conference, held at the Nashoba Valley Technical High School in Westford, highlighted ways for schools to create positive communities by combating bullying and cyber bullying, positive intervention and eliminating perception and misconceptions.

District Attorney Ryan spoke about the requirements of teachers and school staff to be more than just educators because of the need for schools to provide a healthy, safe and productive community for every student in their school.

“We are asking you to do more and more – to be teachers, social workers, counselors, advisors and role models,” District Attorney Ryan said. “Even in the best of circumstances, adolescence is hard. While we can continue to advocate for more laws and resources for our schools, we cannot legislate decency and civility. As adults, we must be the model for appropriate behavior for our students.”

While school-based violence and tragic homicides have dominated the news, District Attorney Ryan spoke about how those incidents are rare and that schools continue to be one of the safest places for students to be every day.

Jacobs urged attendees to “find the beauty in the chaos” by identifying a positive intervention point with a challenging or troubling student.

“Find the good – what is the strength in every student,” Jacobs said, adding that incidents of violence, bullying and other negative behaviors can be prevented when students and staff have a relationship based on respect, values and community. “Preconceptions and prejudices directed towards our students with mental health, behavioral, and substance abuse concerns are often pre-existing and lead to fear, miscues, missteps, and ineffective or unfair interventions.”

Raffalli spoke about the significant and lasting effects of bullying on teens, identifying students most vulnerable to bullying, and ways to reduce bullying in the school. Through his program at Boston Children’s Hospital, Raffalli works with victims of bullying and develops assessments and intervention models for the youth and the school.

“You do not need proof to make an incident of bullying a teachable moment for the victim and the bully,” Raffalli said. “Adults have to respond and take each concern seriously.”

Middlesex Partnerships for Youth, Inc. (MPY) is a non-profit organization which provides prevention and intervention resources and training to Middlesex school districts and communities. District Attorney Ryan is the Chair of the MPY Board of Directors.

This was the 16th annual conference as part of the SECURE (Safe and Effective Community Understanding and Response to Emergencies) program. SECURE was created in 1999 as a pilot program in Newton designed to provide participants with an opportunity to experience hands-on training in school and community-based emergency situations.

Through the efforts of District Attorney Ryan and MPY, educators, parents, and students can regularly engage in collaborative trainings with law enforcement, social services, and community-based organizations as well as share the latest information and resources. Such interactions provide the foundation for creating solution-oriented, community-based, multi-disciplinary approaches to addressing youth violence, substance abuse, child abuse and neglect, hate crimes, and harassment across Middlesex County. For more information on prevention and intervention programs visit www.middlesexda.com and www.middlesexpartnershipsforyouth.com.

– Submitted by DA Ryan’s office

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