'Reach' helps students cope

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Education > App designed for teens who are struggling with their lives

By Tris DeRoma

For many high school students, high school is a fun and exciting time. Often, that time is marked with achievement, self-discovery and coming into one’s own.
Unfortunately students also discover that those good things sometimes don’t happen without some rejection, failure and disappointments along the way.
And some of those students become so overwhelmed by that they take their own lives.
In the past three years, Los Alamos High School and the community at large has lost at least three students to suicide and those same years are marked with many unsuccessful attempts, as well.
In response, there’s now a program called “Reach Toward Not Away.”
Reach Toward Not Away was started last year by then Los Alamos High School senior Sophan Kellogg.
Formed in the wake of the suicides by two Los Alamos seniors, the aim of RTNA was to extend an ever-present lifeline to students needing help getting through a difficult situation. The outreach program accomplished this through specialized apps, pledge drives, phone numbers, and other means of outreach and support.
At a recent school board meeting, the students responsible for the program this year gave a presentation and a report on their progress at the high school since they began their outreach efforts last year. The presenters were Rachel Reynolds, Deanna Gutierrez and Jacqui Hargraves.
During the presentation, Reynolds introduced the board to the “A Friend Asks” app, a free app from the Jason Foundation that students could download onto their Android or Apple iPhones. The app features connections to resources to help those struggling with thoughts of suicide, as well as direct line to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
She also talked about last year’s pledge drive, where they managed to have over 400 students sign a pledge that reads, “to support my friends, to stay connected and belong. Whenever one of us is struggling I will do my best to use the Reach Toward Not Away resources and reach toward an adult.”
RTNA is also having students that take the pledge include on their phones a hotline number to the New Mexico Homework Hotline, as well as a text message address to a chat room run by the University of New Mexico’s Agora Crisis Center.
According to Reynolds, last year, students thanked them personally for letting them know about the program and the app.
“Students came forward and told us that even in the later months of the school year, they used the app, and they that they wouldn’t have known what to do otherwise,” Reynolds said.
Gutierrez said one of their goals for this year was to get the app and the program to every student.
“We know that’s a really big undertaking, but we think that it would be beneficial and possible with a lot of hard work,” she said.
The group plans on creating plans that will teachers and other adults at the school aid students asking for help, as well.
“One of the major goals of Reach Toward Not Away is we want the students to realize they can go to adults and other students,” Gutierrez said. “A big part of that goal is making sure that when students reach toward adults is that the adults know what to do. We’re hoping we can possibly talk about implementing policies at the school so all the teachers and other adults will know what to do.”
School board member Bill Hargraves asked if it was possible that RTNA members could hold more presentations inside classrooms. LAHS Principal Brad Parker said that would be no problem.
“I could work with the teachers to make that happen,” Parker said to the board. “I think it’s very important that we recognize the community we have here, meet the needs of the students and that we do what we need to do to take care of them.”
Since its founding, the group has received much support from the community, including the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board, Los Alamos Medical Center and Ruby K’s Bagels.
Ruby K’s and the medical center are funding the $5 gift certificates RTNA gives to students who take the pledge and join the program. LAMC is also helping RTNA with printing and design costs.
Mary Beth Maassen, the hospital’s marketing director and RTNA’s liaison to LAMC, said the decision to help RTNA in its efforts was an easy one to make.
“It’s such a frightening problem for everybody involved, and the program really looks like it’s taking some significant steps in the right direction,” Maassen said. “We were particularly excited that it’s coming from the students themselves.”
Reynolds, Gutierrez and Hargraves also mentioned at the meeting that they want to the local media to get the word out to as many parents, as well as their children as possible about Reach Toward Not Away, but the resources it offers.
To download the app, go to Jasonfoundation.com. To find out more about AGORA, visit agoracares.org.
The number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and the website address is suicidepreventionlifeline.org.