USD 437 uses text hotline, mindful minute to prevent teen suicide

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The Auburn-Washburn school district is still recovering from a November student suicide.

Monday night board members heard from the superintendent and school leaders about how they’re fighting a state-wide epidemic.

"You reflect on what you could've done differently, if there is anything you could've done differently,” Washburn Rural High School principal Ed Raines said.

Since 1999 all but one state has seen an increase in teen suicide. The biggest growth is in rural areas like Shawnee County.

Fueled by the trend, the district hired more social workers and brought in suicide survivors. Washburn Rural Middle School even started a mindful minute at the start of each class.

"If they're dealing with some things or going through some things, it's just a way for them to clear their mind and get ready for the school day,” WRMS principal Mark Koepsel said.

At WRHS, 25 students have seen counselors for mental health risk assessments this school year. Teachers not only give instruction in math and English, but in relationships and social interaction.

Students too, promote crisis phone numbers and text hotlines.

"They don't just text about suicide prevention,” said WRMS teacher Lara McDonald. “If they're having relationship struggles, or struggles with their studies or anything they feel is weighing them down, they can text this phone line and get a text back from a licensed therapist."

But 18 suicides in Shawnee County over four years means there's more work to be done.

"There are best practices that schools can engage in, that parents can engage in, that kids can engage in,” said Raines. “But I think in the end it's going to come down to individual contact, to people to people contact.”