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Staff, students struggling with aftermath of teens' deaths

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2015 (1501 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One Garden City Collegiate teacher taught both Grade 12 students who’ve committed suicide in the past week --- she asked this morning, “How can I go in my room with two empty chairs?” Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary said this afternoon.

His voice choking up at times, O’Leary said the school is reeling.

Students using social media asked those attending the high school today to wear black to mourn the deaths of Bettina Rodriguez, who died May 1, and Arvyn Buenviaje, her boyfriend, who reportedly died Tuesday.

“The first one was bad, the second is 10 times worse,” O’Leary said. “They were both exemplary students, marks in the 90s --- everybody loved them. This is a school that will need support through the end of the school year.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2015 (1501 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One Garden City Collegiate teacher taught both Grade 12 students who’ve committed suicide in the past week —- she asked this morning, "How can I go in my room with two empty chairs?" Seven Oaks superintendent Brian O’Leary said this afternoon.

His voice choking up at times, O’Leary said the school is reeling.

Bettina Rodriguez and Arvyn Buenviaje.

TWITTER

Bettina Rodriguez and Arvyn Buenviaje.

Students using social media asked those attending the high school today to wear black to mourn the deaths of Bettina Rodriguez, who died May 1, and Arvyn Buenviaje, her boyfriend, who reportedly died Tuesday.

"The first one was bad, the second is 10 times worse," O’Leary said. "They were both exemplary students, marks in the 90s —- everybody loved them. This is a school that will need support through the end of the school year."

Today, he said, "We took the first hour of the day, all the advisors met with their students for the first hour. We did the same Monday. We brought in extra staff, we have two adults in every room."

O’Leary said the division’s grief counselors are there primarily to support the staff, but they also have areas in which students can seek them out to talk.

"The school staff is the strongest, that’s where they’ve got the relationship, they know who’s vulnerable," O’Leary said.

O’Leary said the principal called him Saturday afternoon after learning of the first death, and O’Leary called together staff that afternoon.

The second student did come to school Monday, said O’Leary: "There was special attention being paid. He came to the school, then left."

O’Leary, said he received a call Tuesday. "At first, there was some hope of resuscitation," but the student died, he said.

"There’s lots of people" asking themselves if the deaths could have been prevented, O'Leary said. "I don’t think these deaths could have been prevented. The last thing that should happen is anyone at the school blaming themselves."

Grief counsellors and mental health workers will remain in Garden City Collegiate for an extended period.

The suicides have people reeling all over, say two Grade 10 students in Winnipeg who started a petition calling for more help with mental health in schools.

"Mental health is a really big thing," said Jasmine Deato at Garden City Collegiate. She and her friend, Loizza Aquino, at Vincent Massey Collegiate posted a petition Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning, it had more than 1,000 signatures from all over Canada and the U.S.

Deato, 15, said she didn’t want to talk specifically about the deaths of her schoolmates but hoped the online petition would get people talking about the problem.

"I want to raise awareness about how important mental health could be in schools if schools could talk about it more - that’s what I hope it could do."

The petition can be found at www.change.org/p/mental-health-improtance-in-schools-province-of-manitoba-to-pay-more-attention-to-mental-health-of-students.

Kleefeld, Man., musician and school motivational speaker Robb Nash said that after he’s spoken to schools about dealing with tragedy, he’s had more than 300 students hand him the notes they’d prepared for a potential suicide attempt, .

What happened at Garden City Collegiate is not an anomaly, said Nash. "To say that this is rare, is not the case," he lamented.

"There is no magical statement that can be said to make everything better. It doesn't exist," he said. But, said Nash, school communities need to communicate, to talk things out for as long as someone needs to talk, and not to try to contain feelings.

Nash, who survived a near-fatal accident, said the key is finding ways through a tragedy to help others.

Mental health is a priority in schools, said O’Leary.

"We’ve been working with the WRHA (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority) on mental health initiatives for some time," he said.

"It is a priority and will need to remain a priority."

Provincially, the Manitoba government announced a youth mental health initiative on Monday, he said.

Children and Youth Opportunities Minister Melanie Wight announced $2 million for the first year of a multi-year strategy to support child and youth mental health.

"Investments in mental health help children grow up healthy, happy and give them the best chance to succeed in school and beyond," Wight said in a press release. "Together with our community partners, we’re developing a comprehensive strategy that will prevent mental health problems early on and provide effective supports and services for those who need them."

The strategy, to be released later this year, "will build a continuum of supports ranging from mental health promotion and prevention of mental health problems to interventions and treatment for children and youth with the most complex needs."

The province said its plans include:

Increasing services and training in support of children and youth with mental health problems and illnesses including those with complex needs.

Launching a program that will equip home visitor staff to provide mental health supports to at-risk parents and families.

Expanding the PAX Good Behaviour Game to additional classrooms across the province.

Expanding Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy programs to more classrooms and child-care centres across Manitoba.

"We know that good mental health starts early and it starts in our homes, schools and communities," said Healthy Living and Seniors Minister Deanne Crothers. "We all have a role to play in giving our kids the best chance to flourish."

Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson visited the school briefly today to tell teachers that MTS has counseling available for them.

"You have to help the helpers, and you have to care for the caregivers," said Olson.

"Any teacher who’s taught long enough has attended the funerals of students," he lamented.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide call the Manitoba Suicide Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170. Help is available 24 hours a day.

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Reporter

Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, May 6, 2015 at 1:26 PM CDT: Updated with information on petition.

3:46 PM: Adds comment from MTS president

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