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April 28th, 2009
The Film
Case Study on Hamilton High

Listen to executive producer Edie Magnus’ experience studying Hamilton High’s initiatives in addressing the emotional problems with their students or read about it below.

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Remember when the No Child Left Behind Act became law? President Bush signed it in a ceremony at Hamilton High school – which that day stood for schools everywhere in the mission to bolster academic standards across the country. Well, 5 years later Hamilton High stood for what’s happening in many of the nation’s schools in another, far more disturbing way: there were four student suicides there within months of one another. When i first spoke with the principal he was agonizing over the question of why it had happened and what they had missed. All four teenagers had died by hanging.  No Child Left Behind as principal Dennis Malone would tell us later, may have required schools to increase test scores or attendance, but there wasn’t one indicator to show that a school had increased its attention to students with emotional problems.

So Hamilton High took it upon themselves to do a better job in this area – and in our documentary Cry for Help you will see what they put together and you can judge for yourselves how they do. For teachers and counselors and administrators it’s all extra time and extra work, but they all told us it had to be done. School is where all the kids are – for most of their days, anyway.  And in today’s world, where both parents often work, the folks running the schools are best positioned to reach the teenagers at risk who come through their doors everyday.

See what you think of what they call Character Day:  Hamilton High actually suspended classes for a day to spend time with students studying their emotional well being.  And there’s a crisis team – which is put to the test.  There are many different initiatives being launched across the country now – often in the wake of tragedy – to get at the problem of adolescent mental illness and feelings of suicide.  Hamilton High’s is just one of them.  What you will see represents a start.  With 28 teenagers taking their own lives every week in this country, it’s a start along a path from which schools are finding they can’t turn away.

  • FMack

    Great show. How can I get ‘Character Day’ started at my son’s high school? They have just had two students and one former student arrested in relation to possibly bombing & shooting on the Columbine 10th anniversary.

  • Woodsy

    FMack– Character Day was adapted from a more widespread program called Challenge Day. Visit http://www.challengeday.org for information on how to bring a Challenge Day team to your school. It’s a wonderful program.

  • R Prefontaine

    Great show! I’m a retired educator and school psychologist. These programs point out the importance of creating an environment where students can learn to feel free discussing with peers and staff the feelings we almost all have that contribute to anger,inappropriate behavior, and failure in school. As important, if not more so, than academic learning. I have been out of the school environment for a few years. Are these and other such approaches emphasized at teacher training and administrator training institutions and conferences? Wide circulation of “Cry for Help” to middle and high schools could stimulate more interest in developing programs at the local level. I wish I would have had efforts like this 15-20 years ago.

  • Keith

    Thankyou for making this program. I was one of the ppl interviewed for the making of this program.

  • Kimberly Hacktt

    A long time ago, parents, teachers and city officials realized they had a problem – that children can’t and don’t learn when they’re hungry. It was in 1853 when the Children’s Aid Society of New York City began the movement to offer hot meals at school for children who might not eat again that day. We realized then that children can’t grow and learn when they’re physically hungry. Now we are realizing that children don’t grow and learn well when they are emotionally hungry.
    By only emphasizing left brain (academic) work, we neglect and invalidate the deep human work of being and feeling. This they must do on their own, in their spare time, without adult support, mentoring or guidance. From the parent side, it is like sending your child off to school without lunch or money, expecting he/she will somehow get fed that day. From the school side, it is assuming each child is being fed, or worse, ignoring the truth, that many students are going hungry each day.
    That is a haphazard approach and puts all children emotionally and developmentally at risk.
    Children and youth need to be emotionally fed, supported and need opportunities to practice the art of being them – in school.
    Some are lucky. Some schools are beginning to pay attention and make changes, while most still insist that academics are what school is all about.
    Developmentally adolescents have one job – to answer the “who am I?” question. “Becoming” is what children and adolescents do and if we neglect the emotional and creative aspects of becoming for a menu of left brain work, we grow a child who is unbalanced and unhappy.
    Creative social emotional learning curriculum must be in all schools (CSEL). What is CSEL? It is time offered in school for students to explore, process and express what is going on emotionally and socially. It is for all students, not just those who are already at risk, in trouble or following tragedy. It is preventative but more importantly it is essential developmentally.
    We must feed our children so they can learn. Take a look at my blog where I write about adolescence and the need for CSEL here and now.
    adolescentwork.wordpress.com

  • MARY AGNES ARMBRUSTER

    WE NEED WHAT YOU ARE DOING IN EVERY SCHOOL TODAY – YES, EVERY SCHOOL – ANYTHING THAT YOU AND THOSE DOING THIS CAN DO TO GET THIS INTO EVERY SCHOOL – I HOPE AND PRAY THAT IT WILL BE DONE AND THAT THE OTHER SCHOOLS – FROM BIRTH THROUGH THE SCHOOL OF LIFE – OLD AGE – BUT ESPECIALLY IN OUR GRADE AND HIGH AND COLLEGE SCHOOLS – WILL IMITATE YOU IN WHAT YOU SO SUCCESSFULLY ARE NOW DOING WITH “CHARACTER DAYS” AS I DID SEE ON THE PROGRAM LAST EVENING APRIL 29, WED. 2009 ON OUR PUBLIC BROADCASTING STATION – SINCERE THANKS , I AM MARY AGNES ARMBRUSTER – AND I THANK YOU AND OUR GOD MUST BE THANKING YOU ALSO FOR OUR GOD AND OUR HIGHER POWERS DOES NOT WANT VIOLENCE . SINCERELY MARY AGNES 74 YEARS OLD

  • james gadd

    graduating from hamilton high in 01 this troubles me…in my years there were kids that were depressed. but, never did i notice how depressing this town is in general. i’ve had friends from high school die every year since i had graduated…it’s horrible. and with the economy the way it is i see that the older generation’s than me are getting more depressed…

  • Krystal Quinlan-Actis

    As a 2001 graduate from Hamilton High School, it saddens me to see my school in this manner. I am glad HHS is doing something see the warning signs before another student is lost. I wish we had that program while I was at HHS. It would have broken some cliques. I am happy I was involved in positive programs while in high school, but that doesn’t change the fact that I had dark moment. Youth need to have structure and love. This documentary puts light on a very tender subject. I am glad we are talking about this subject. Suicide has a stigma and people only speak of it in a hush tone. Only when we raise our voices, as Hamilton has, and say no more.

  • Donna C.

    How can I find more info on getting the STEPS program in my school?

  • Emily

    I go to Hamilton High, and it is an excellent program. We have benefitted so much from it! To get it started at your school I would recommend calling out high school and asking to speak to Coach Jim Place, he is the head of it and is an amazing guy!

  • rj humphrey

    wow loved the show i just wanted to say i’m 18 an went through hell when i was in school i thought about killing my self a few times but now i want to make a difference in another kids life who is going through what i went through. i was just wondering how can i get my story out there or what can i do to make a difference.

  • Margaret Buford

    Thank you for the excellent program on April 29, particularly for highlighting the efforts by individuals committed to offering help and understanding to students of Hamilton High School.
    They are real heroes. Deeply appreciated were the references to the help offered by NAMI. My wish is that more people knew about the efforts and support offered by this agency. Interested people can look for a NAMI affiliate in their locality. The Franklin County (Virginia)NAMI affiliate has offered the Family to Family course to 5 groups of family members in the past 2 years. People have appreciated the insights and support offered by this series of 12 classes. How encouraging to see individual’s concern for mental health issues grow in this way.

  • Fredric Matteson

    I very much appreciated “Cry For Help”, not only for its content but for the opportunity it provides the public for a much-needed ongoing
    forum about the etiology and “treatment” of suicide. For the past 23 years I have seen over 15,000 suicidal patients in my role as a group & 1:1 therapist on a 10-bed acute mental health unit within the medical setting of a public hospital. Many of them were teens (15-19 years old). The typical reason for each patient to be admitted is due to suicidal ideation — after an actual suicide attempt or having intense suicidal thoughts. The cliche is true: “Experience is the best teacher.” After seeing so many suicidal individuals the ubiquity of their symptoms starts to reveal underlying core patterns. These common algorithms stand separate from — and need to be differentiated from — the “precipitant” factors, as serious and important as they are, that are identified in the patient’s initial E.R. intake. Whereas it is true that depression and suicide are often linked, it is equally true that not everyone with depression becomes suicidal, and likewise not everyone who is suicidal is depressed. What I have learned over the years is that something deeper is happening here and needs to be factored in. No amount of looking for the right thing in the wrong place will ever deliver the right answer. The first step in solving a problem is to know what the problem is. Again, to close with another cliche: “What you don’t know can hurt you.” In the case of the suicidal patient, the same cliche becomes: “What you don’t know can kill you.” In this ongoing discussion on suicide, I am hoping to encourage an even wider conversation and a growing curiosity about the “big picture” of the phenomena of suicide. For those interested in more information about this can link to the following web site: http://www.ContextualConceptualTherapy.com

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