AKRON, Ohio — Akron Public School officials, along with church and community leaders, are hosting an event designed to shine a light on the serious problem of self-harm among students.
"Ellet Day" will take place July 27 at Arlington Memorial Baptist Church on East Market Street from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The event will include a 5K run/walk, a neighborhood flea market, a classic car show and a Realm of the Reptile show. 60 percent of the money raised will go to Hyre Middle School to help pay for speakers and programs to educate students about self-harm and drug use issues.
Larry Bender, the principal at Hyre Middle School, said since December, 83 of his sixth, seventh, and eighth graders were referred for help after reporting hurting themselves in some way.
"Deep down in me, it just eats you away. I keep telling people we have to do something to save our kids," Bender said.
School officials said the number included kids who attempted suicide, but the majority involved non-suicidal self-injurious behavior from students who cut or burned themselves.
"Self-injurious behavior really is about stress, anxiety and really not having the necessary coping strategies to deal with adversity that a lot of students are presented with," said Dr. Erich Merkle, a school psychologist with APS.
Dave Bogue, the pastor at nearby Arlington Memorial Baptist Church, believes self-harm among kids is a crisis. His congregation felt the need to do something to bring awareness and talk about the problem in the open, which led to the formation of Ellet Day.
"This cannot go unresponded to," Bogue said. "We want to be a church family that's connecting with families in the community."
Bogue said a Facebook post on the event has garnered more than 16,000 hits, likes and shares. About $4,000 has been raised so far.
Organizers believe a variety of factors contribute to self-harm among kids, including social media comments, struggles with drugs in homes and pressure in school.
"At this point, I think a lot of students, not just in Akron but nationwide, are feeling a lot of stress and pressure," Dr. Merkle said.
The National Association of School Psychologists encourages school communities to be especially vigilant to students, or staff, who may be vulnerable and offered the following tips and resources:
- Touching base with vulnerable students directly to check on their well-being
- Conveying to students, staff and parents the message that there is hope and how to get help
- Sharing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Alerting parents to be attentive and vigilant regarding any changes in their children’s behavior or mood
- Sharing information with staff and families on risk factors and warning signs
- Alerting crisis prevention/response teams at your schools to be attentive and vigilant regarding any rumors regarding students’ behaviors
- Monitoring social media