13 Reasons Why NOT

Monday, May 29th, 2017 at 5:52 pm by

Educators spontaneously share concerns about the effect on students of the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why.

In the series, a 17-year-old girl who has committed suicide arranged before her death to have audio tapes to 13 people explaining how their actions contributed to her tragic decision.

Students at Delaware Academy Central School District approached their superintendent, Jason Thomson, with a plan to share  “13 reasons why not” with fellow students.

Each day for the last 13 days of schools, a different student, teacher, or staff member shares a memory of a struggle they have overcome during the morning school announcements. Rather than casting blame, each speaker thanks someone for helping them through their tough time.

The post below was written and submitted by Delaware Academy Superintendent Jason Thomson. He is one of the 13 speakers.

“Thirteen Reasons Why Not!”
A collaborative student and staff led program to combat anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide at Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi.

By Jason Thomson, Superintendent, Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi

This idea and project is a student and staff facilitated project at Delaware Academy Central School District at Delhi. I am extremely proud of our students for their confidence, trust, and bravery.

As one of the speakers, I shared my pre-teen and teenage struggles over our loud speaker during morning announcements. Needless to say, I was very nervous to share my story and open my heart up for everyone to view. However, I felt that leading by example and breaking down the secretive barriers that those with mental health struggles are forced to hide behind might help crumble the stigmas associated with anxiety and depression.

I felt compelled to show my students who are currently struggling with mental health issues, that I “get them” and really understand their struggles.

As adults, most of us can all relate to the stress and pressures of being a teenager.  Along with the typical teenage trials and tribulations, I, like many or our students, suffered with bouts of depression.

So, when I received the following letter from four enterprising students, I knew that we were on to something that was bigger than all of us and had the potential to make a positive and powerful impact on our student body.

Dear Mr. Thomson,

“This project will run every day until the last day of regular classes (our last thirteen days). We ask that all teachers silence their classes during morning announcements so students can hear what is being said. It is very brave to share personal issues with the entire student body and they deserve respect. In addition, we ask that the teachers remind the students of the resources we have to help students in need. If you see any student that is upset, please send them to the guidance office.

Here’s what we would like to read to our students and staff to “kick off the project” prior to our speakers sharing their stories…

“Thirteen Reasons Why NOT” Project

This year hit our Delaware Academy family hard.  A rising concern of depression and suicide has caused concerns this school year, 2016-2017. Unlike drug addiction, rape, and alcohol abuse, depression and suicide is overlooked and untreated. In 2014, John Hopkins hospital recorded a thirty seven percent increase of adolescents being treated with clinical depression.   Recently, a show called, “Thirteen Reasons Why” has been released, which tells the story about a girl who suffered from clinical depression then committed suicide leaving thirteen tapes blaming people for what drove her to commit such an awful death.

Our goal is to propose a project called “Thirteen Reasons Why Not” which will include thirteen students, faculty, and/or staff of Delaware Academy. For thirteen days, which coincides with our final thirteen days of school, one volunteer will share a memory or struggle they have overcome over the loudspeaker during morning announcements.

Instead of blaming someone for their struggles, as portrayed in the Netflix series, each volunteer will thank someone for helping them. Each speech will be concluded with, “Thank you for being one of my thirteen reasons why not.”

 Please understand this may be difficult for some students to hear, each speech will be given guidelines. All speeches will be rehearsed, reviewed, and approved by Mrs. Cleveland and Mr. Thomson.

All volunteer speakers under the age of eighteen will given a permission slip explaining the project and guidelines to be followed with parental approval.

Each speech will be different. Stories may include topics of racism, depression, family issues, changing schools, jobs, or even just having a bad day. Every speech will be told with the idea that help is available.

Our goal is create an awareness for mental health. May is mental health awareness month and nobody deserves to be alone during a depressing period of time throughout their life. Set aside from high academic standards, Delaware Academy is a place where all students are loved and cared for. As a student progresses from middle school to high school, their stress and anxiety levels increase dramatically.

This stress and anxiety impacts both our students and faculty. Whether a person experiences a depressing period of a week or suffers from clinical depression for several years, everyone must be recognized and provided with support.

We believe everyone can come together for each other’s weak points recognizing that everyone needs support. “Thirteen Reasons Why Not” would be a great start to propel an awareness for mental health disorders.

Thank you for your support and guidance on such an important topic!

“Thirteen Reasons Why Not Student Committee.”

I was the first staff member of six to share my story.  We alternated for thirteen days between ours students and staff.

“Good morning everyone, this is Mr. Thomson.

I know several of you have heard me say over the years, “I love my students and I love you all as if each of you are my own children.” I try to show you and tell you on a regular basis, and yes, sometimes my love is “tough love.” And, this is why I’m putting myself out there right now and sharing my experiences with you now.

 As a pre-teen and teenager I struggled with deep anxiety and depression, I was always worrying and caring about what others thought of me, I worried that I wouldn’t be accepted, people laughing or whispering about how I looked, the clothes I wore, judging me, worrying so much about fitting in, and I always felt that I was never smart enough, good enough, and scared I would never fit in with the right crowd.

I even contemplated hurting myself…but I didn’t…see…those thoughts were foolish, short-sighted, and immature thinking. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had a great support network of friends, family, and teachers that I was able to rely on and I preserved my way through it all. I’m so glad I did. I literally would have missed out on a lifetime. I would have missed out on all life’s joys. Yes, sometimes the world is tough and dark. Life is a rollercoaster and you have to embrace the good and the bad.

Why? Because life is worth it. Suicide and hurting yourself is not an answer. It’s an ending and you will only hurt yourself and everyone around you who loves you. Nothing good is to be gained.

Anxiety and depression is real. And, it is really scary for those who struggle with it. I still struggle with it today every once and a while as an adult. The significant difference now is that I have several positive coping skills that I have learned over the years. Exercise, healthy eating, medication, and talking about my fears and aspirations with those who truly care about me. I’ve learned to care less about what others think and I have learned to be happy by truly being myself. I have chosen to be a positive influence and try to make the world around me a better place. 

Words are powerful. Words have a piercing, penetrating, and rippling effect. You never really know what someone else is struggling with…even when they appear to have it all and have it all figured out.

So my request to you Delaware Academy is this…be kind to each other…care for one another…even if you aren’t friends with someone…choose to be kind not hurtful. Being kind and thoughtful doesn’t cost you a thing.

Do you know why this is so important? Because you could be the one positive difference in that person’s day, week, month, year, and life. Choose to make a positive difference in the world. It’s well worth the minimal effort.

Thank you for letting me share my thoughts and feelings with you. Please know, I am a safe haven for those of you struggling with anxiety and/or depression…I am also here for you all for any other concerns…big or small. I’m always here when you need me. You are not alone. You don’t have to struggle alone.

Thank you to all the students and staff of Delaware Academy for being one of my thirteen reasons why not!

I love you all.  All the best!

Have an amazing day!

Mr. Thomson.

The response to our initiative been very positive. It turns out, students want to talk about mental health.  It turns out students are ready to talk about mental health, and it turns out, we all need to listen.

In the process of helping my students, I re-learned a powerful lesson if you put yourself out there for the right reasons, you may just change someone’s life, even yours, for the better.

It’s time to for all educators across the nation to help our children who struggle with anxiety and depression.  We have to talk about the uncomfortable elements in our life in order to stimulate positive change. There is no time to waste. All the best.

Thank you for all you do for our children across New York State.  Our work is so important.

Here is how Binghamton area television station WBNG reported on the Delaware Academy initiative.

Here is a source for parents recommended by Superintendent Thomson.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 29th, 2017 at 5:52 pm and is filed under Leadership, New York Success Stories, Supporting Students. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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