Seminole County schools helping teens cope after 2 student deaths

Law enforcement told News 6 that two students died in the district over the past week

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A crisis response team made up of licensed mental health counselors and school social workers will be available to students in Seminole County this week following the death of a student. News 6 is learning through law enforcement that two students in the district died by suicide within the last week.

The district declined to disclose much else, but shared a message sent to families informing them of their priority to make sure students get the help they need. At this point, it’s unclear why these tragedies have happened in Seminole County so close together.

“There’s probably not one explanation for it,” said Jordan Rodriguez.

Jordan Rodriguez spent 20 years working in Seminole County Public Schools, most recently as principal at Seminole High School, before he became News 6′s education expert. He said suicide is a complex problem, but it’s an unfortunate reality he’s familiar with.

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“Any time there’s a loss of life, especially with a young student. It’s absolutely devastating,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the timing of the recent incidents seems to be anomaly.

“I don’t think it’s foreshadowing of a pattern to come, but kids are absolutely battling mental health issues right now,” Rodriguez said.

A recent report from the CDC looks at the mental health crisis by the numbers nationwide. It shows 42% of high school students that were surveyed reported feeling persistent sadness or hopelessness in 2021. More than 20% seriously considered suicide.

Dwayne Noble, a registered mental health counselor intern with Everyone’s Counseling Center in Orlando, spoke to News 6 about why the problem is getting worse.

“I definitely feel like more people are wanting help. I think it’s a critical time in our nation’s history,” Noble said. “I think although there are many relationships that we have, many of them are very surface level. I don’t know if our young people feel really known by the people closest to them in their lives.”

Noble said parents should look for any behavior that’s not typical for their teenager and possible isolation from family and friends.

“Are they staying locked in their room more than usual? Are they not coming to meals? Are they not surfacing to say hello?” Noble asked.

Noble said it’s also OK for parents to talk to their kids about suicide.

“As a mental health counselor, it is OK to talk to someone about suicide,” Noble said. “In our education, they tell us that in talking about suicide, it doesn’t heighten the risk factor for that individual.”

It might not always be easy, but experts said it’s that connection at home and at school that makes a difference.

“You’ve got to form relationships with the kids,” Rodriguez said. “The kids have to know that there is somebody there for them. They’re not alone.”

Rodriguez said prior to his departure from the school system, the district was putting quite a few systems in place to ensure that campuses and families had support.

On their website, Seminole County Public Schools lists some of the ways they offer that support:

  • School counselors can help refer students to appropriate internal and community resources. They are also available for crisis intervention and support.
  • School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students, consult with teachers, families and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e. school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies, work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies, and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services.
  • School social workers can assist a family in accessing community resources for a variety of needs including housing, food, clothing and medical needs. They also are able to meet with students one on one or in groups to provide counseling services related to educational goals.
  • District Mental Health Counselors are available to help family’s navigate mental health needs including connecting families to mental health supports in the community. They are also available to provide one on one counseling for students who are appropriate for school-based services.

The district also shares resources online including coping skills for teens.

Just last week, the district also announced Seminole County Public Schools is a recipient of a federal grant to support mental health and student wellness. The Department of Education awarded the money to more than 30 states to enable communities to hire school-based mental health professionals.

SCPS officials said they plan to use the funds to add six additional school social workers.

For more information on SCPS’s mental health support services, click here.

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About the Author:

Catherine, born and raised in Central Florida, joined News 6 in April 2022.