CMSD program works to reverse alarming suicide rates

Posted at 6:43 AM, Apr 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-24 11:52:01-04

The E-Team broke the story on News 5 in February that one in five high school-aged students enrolled in Cleveland Metropolitan School District tried to kill themselves in 2015. It’s the highest suicide-attempt rate out of any major urban school district in the United States.

The stressors of being a teen are elevated in Cleveland, where more than 70 percent of the student population lives in poverty and estimated 4,000 students are homeless. But there is help; in the same way schools protect a student’s safety, in Cleveland, they’ve now learned they need to protect a student’s soul.

“Humanware is not just a program, it is a way of life, it is a way of thinking,” said Denine Goolsby, the Executive Director of CMSD’s Humanware program.

If the hardware of the school is its metal detector, the wands, and security guards that pat you down when you enter, Humanware is the safety device that takes care of a student’s emotional well-being.

“Humanware is the opposite of the hardware, the wands, the X-Ray machines, the security officers, but the Humanware piece is the piece that deals with the internal needs of individuals,” said Goolsby.

RELATED: Cleveland school district has highest suicide rates of any school district in the U.S.

At the Humanware planning center, a classroom at CMSD’s Fullerton School, 15 to 20 kids come every day and work with the school’s Humanware Coordinator, Alonzo Clark.

“Especially within the teenage years especially, kids don’t often times feel that they have an adult they can confide in or they can talk to, a safe space, so the planning center is just that in every school,” said Clark.

Clark says kids bring the baggage of their communities through the school doors; gang violence, poverty, the fears and anxieties no kid should know, all come into the building. With Clark though, he says they can learn to deal with those stressors. 20% of CMSD high school students attempted to kill themselves in 2015. The Humanware program is fighting to take that record breaking number to zero.

“It helps them understand how to deal with the feelings that they’re having as opposed to hurting themselves,” said Goolsby.

Humanware was born out of the 2007 Success Tech shooting, where a 14-year-old gunman shot five students and teachers, and then turned the gun on himself.

“The goal is to get them empowered,” said Clark.

Ten years later, the concern for students’ well-being is just as real and the need for a program to intervene is more important than ever.

“A lot of our scholars deal with a lot. The communities, there’s a lot of things that are out of their control,” said Clark.

For CMSD high school students there is a tiered approach to making sure they don’t hurt themselves, with the final tier being an intervention and a crisis team where teachers can respond if they know a student is about to hurt themselves.

There have been some successes with the program. In school surveys, students report their feeling of overall safety has increased over the last several years.