WASHINGTON — Madie Adams lost a close friend and classmate Aug. 24 when a 16-year-old Washington Community High School sophomore committed suicide.
Adams, also a sophomore at the high school, organized a candlelight vigil in honor of her friend and attended a meeting the following night at Crossroads United Methodist Church, where panelists talked about suicide and mental health issues in schools.
She didn't stop there.
Adams, 15, spoke to the high school's School Board last week about her friend's death and offered suggestions on how to avert similar tragedies at the school.
"We can't deny the existence of bullying and mental health challenges inside and outside these walls," she told the board. "What we can do is find ways to better equip and support the true first responders ... students."
Adams said she heard often from panelists at the Crossroads Church gathering that a student experiencing bullying or mental health issues — or a friend of a student having issues — should tell an adult.
"I agree, but ... what happens when the adult lacks the training, skill set or resources to respond effectively?" she said. "Further, what do we do when students can't or won't go to an adult because they don't feel comfortable? I know this was true for my friend."
Adams said relying on students going to an adult isn't enough.
"I've seen it," she said. "Students feel intimidated and anxious about it. The most successful long-term solutions must be bottom up, not top down."
Adams offered six proposals during her talk to the board. She believes her proposals would "increase and ease self and peer identification for those in crisis, at little or no cost to the district."
Superintendent Kyle Freeman and Adams met the day after her presentation to the board to discuss her proposals.
"It was a good talk," Freeman said. "I'm very proud of Madie. Her presentation to the board was articulate and clear, especially on such a tough, emotional topic for her."
Adams said she was happy about her conversation with Freeman.
"This has been a difficult, emotional experience, and I'm hoping for the best with my proposals," she said in an interview. "I'm doing this to support my friend. My family and my friend's family are supporting me."
On the topic of adults and their ability to handle a student in crisis, Freeman said faculty at the high school undergo extensive suicide awareness and mental health training, which includes knowing when a counselor is needed.
"Often times a teacher does triage," Freeman said.
Adams wants the school to create links on its website for local and national suicide prevention and mental health resources. Freeman said that could be expanded to include resources for drug and alcohol abuse.
A bullying report form on the school's website can't be changed to include other issues, as Adams suggested, because of a state law, Freeman said, but a new form could be created.
This form could address another issue Adams raised, Freeman said, by making it the place for a student having an issue to ask to see a counselor instead of speaking with a teacher.
"(Talking with a teacher) can be uncomfortable," Adams told the board. "In my experience, others can hear your answer when you're asked why you need an appointment with a counselor."
In her talk, Adams said in her random survey of 100 students, half didn't know the school's bullying report form existed even though they were supposed to learn about it in Orientation to Technology as well as health and physical education classes. Of those who know about the form, 13 percent didn't know where it is or how to use it.
"As a student who is taking or has taken these classes, I was not informed about the form," she said.
Adams proposes a week where students use their own devices or school Chromebooks to locate the form while being given a demonstration on how to use it.
Freeman said the form was moved to the front page of the school's website late last school year, and efforts will be made to better inform students about it.
Adams' suggestion to create a student group that meets regularly with administrators already is in place, Freeman said, with his superintendent's advisory committee, which meets monthly.
About 20 students are in the group this year, Freeman said, and Adams was offered a spot. The group puts on school events in addition to providing insight into what's going on daily at school.
Freeman said Adams' suggestions to create a student and/or parent directory as part of the school's annual registration process and a student and community survey to gather data on the biggest challenges in bullying and mental health are being discussed.
Adams attended St. Patrick School in Washington from kindergarten through third grade, then she went to Central Intermediate School from grades 4-8 before coming to the high school.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.