By David Fleet
Goodrich- On Feb. 21 Dave Opalewski, president of Saginaw-based Grief Recovery Inc. a certified death, dying and suicide prevention instructor for Central Michigan University, provided sessions of awareness for middle and high school students, school staff and parents.
Opalewski is also a certified support group facilitator and child trauma specialist who explores the scope of the suicide epidemic among youth, assessed the facts and myths of suicide, causes, symptoms of suicidal behavior, para-medical assessment techniques, and has worked with the survivors. The Martian Parent Teacher Organization funded the sessions.
Tiffany Kapeka von Keltz, middle school principal addressed the school board on Monday night regarding the day long suicide awareness session in the district.
“Mental health issues are real for young people,” she said, regarding the session at the middle school. “It’s crazy when you look out and see 500 middle school students just silent (when Opalewski was speaking). That never happens. They were all really engaged and took it very seriously, we wanted to start a dialog and break down the barriers (regarding suicide) so it’s not viewed as taboo.”
Opalewski spent 33 years in K-12 education, during which he experienced the deaths students and staff members.
“He was very direct to students, yet mindful of their age, he did not dance around the topic,” said von Keltz. “He emphasized if a friend shares with you about suicide, don’t keep that to yourself, it’s not your responsibility to fix it—rather bring it to the attention of an adult. While their friends might feel they are betrayed, when they are through the crises, they will become friends—life-long friends. You’re not telling on your friend to get them in trouble. The students appreciated his candor and treating them as adults on a very critical topic.”
Opalewski also addressed the parents of high school and middle school students after the assembly.
“The number one take away from the parent meeting was we need to talk about it, to prevent it, and not to ask, ‘what’s wrong with the kids these days?’ said von Keltz. “More importantly to ask what’s wrong that they (students) can’t come forward and talk to us? If you have asthma get medication; if you have cancer get treatment; if you have a mental health issue there are people here to support you. We are not sure where we go from here but we just wanted to start that conversation.”
Michael Baszler, high school principal emphasized it’s a team effort.
“Listen to the kids,” said Baszler. “Listen to where they are directing you, help them (students) guide us. It’s about building relationships. Kids don’t really care so much about what you teach, or knowledge of the content area. But they do care that you care about them. Every kid that graduates and walks across our stage, and gone through our system in K-12, I hope they know that we love them and care about them.”
“It’s a one community one family approach,” he added.