FLEMINGTON, NJ - For more than an hour, the Hunterdon Central Regional Board of Education heard from students who want them to do something to make their high school into a warm, caring place.
Their call comes after two students this academic year took their own lives.
More than 60 students and parents wore yellow t-shirts to the Feb. 25 meeting with a message in sky blue letters; “I will listen” on the front and “I will care” on the back.
The idea for the t-shirts came from students at Safe Harbor who wanted to call attention to the issue.
Safe Harbor, in Flemington, provides services to separating, divorcing or divorced families to make sure the children have continued contact with both parents and other family members, and also provides a safe environment for individuals healing from trauma.
During his report to the board, Moore discussed several things that have been done to address the issue, like doubling the number of student assistance counselors.
He also said they’ve begun to examine what can be done policy wise to bring in more support for their students. Several students addressed the board on concerns they believe are contributing to the feelings of hopelessness and being alone. They range from a lack of communication from some teachers and administrators to their slow response to address the suicides, as well as a lack of support or encouragement from teachers or administrators, among other grievances.
But with their grievances also came suggestions they believe will help the situation, like concerts and adding some color to the walls of the school.
Senior Cameron Paulson thanked administrators for providing a presentation on available resources, but said there needs to be a better environment at the school.
“I feel there needs to be school wide workshops you can do [on] coping mechanisms and things like that,” she said. “If we can fit everybody in the field house for a senior picture, I think you can fit everyone in the field house for a workshop.”
Paulson and all of the comments from each student were translated into Spanish by student Amy Torres who offered her own comments as well.
She directly asked, “Why can’t we talk about suicide prevention?”
Torres suggested freshman be taught a mental awareness class, and download an app called “A Friend Asks.” She also recalled a moment her teacher in English class told them she was going through a tough time and struggled like the rest of them.
“It really put into perspective that we’re not alone,” said Torres who further suggested that students should feel like they are included, not told “oh, there’s another club, oh, there’s meetings.”
School board president Vincent Panico thanked the students for bringing their concerns to the board as he addressed the room after the residents forum.
He said he was “heartbroken” to hear of the experience of students at the school, which are different from his when he was a student. “I understand that this is something like many people have said goes beyond borders of the doors of Hunterdon Central, and it’s a problem that we face around the country, but we need to lead the fight,” he said. “I care about the students here, I care about the teachers here and I care about the community here. That’s why I’m on this board because I care about all of you.”