My students need to learn the valuable lessons of suicide and bullying prevention through an emotional real-life story told directly by the father of Ryan Halligan.
I teach at a 7-12 junior-senior high school in rural Vermont. This school serves the communities of several surrounding towns. The school district encompasses a wide, primarily rural geographical area with diverse topography. Thirty-five percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. The minority enrollment is only three percent.
"Respect self, others, and tradition." These are the words 7th and 8th grade students hear at the start of each and every school day while they are meeting in their Teacher Advisories.
These students are taught by teams of teachers who meet daily to support individual students and to plan engaging curriculum and learning opportunities for all. Many students lack cultural experiences, and therefore it is vital that we try to bring such experiences to them.
Mr. Halligan will launch a video showing short clips and stills of his son Ryan throughout his life. He will then tell Ryan’s story in an engaging way. He will include what happened when he confronted both the girl and the boy involved in the bullying of Ryan. In these moments the students will get a powerful message that he and his wife did not blame them for Ryan’s suicide because they believe suicide is a much more complicated issue and that they do not believe someone would kill themselves just because someone was mean to them. They believe that there was an underlying mental health problem that preconditioned Ryan to respond in this extreme way. But students will also get the message that you never know how much someone is already hurting; especially from an underlying mental health issue, and that you would never want to be the one to push someone over the edge. In listening to the story, they will also gain insight into how parents and siblings are affected by a family member being bullied.
Students are then given the opportunity to ask Mr. Halligan questions, and this is the most powerful part of the program because the students get a chance to process the lessons learned and are fully engaged with their questions controlling the flow.
The presenter always makes four clear points regarding bullying and suicide prevention. After the presentation, most students leave wanting to make a difference in their school.
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