Program at Penfield uses students to save other students' lives

A program aimed at saving young lives from teen suicide is taking root in the Rochester area. (WHAM photo)

Penfield, N.Y. – The Penfield Central School District is among a small but growing group of local schools involved in an effort to prevent suicides.

The program was in its first year last year, as Penfield coped with four suicides. The second year is now underway, and people at Penfield believe they’re on the right course.

The Penfield High School that Kennedy Jackson started in as a freshman is not the same one she’s in now as a junior.

“I remember walking through the hallways and hearing people make comments that aren’t acceptable to say, and now you just feel Penfield has definitely come together,” said Jackson.

Change didn’t come by chance. Kennedy is among 80 students leading the charge, trained in a suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. It’s based on what parents already know: Teens listen more to each other. Sources of Strength empowers them to create a healthy, positive school.

Sources of Strength was in place last year, as Penfield coped with four suicides in 18 months. That’s led many to ask the school’s principal, Dr. Leslie Maloney, if the program is working like it should.

“We do have to take the time to implement the program with fidelity, and that’s something we are taking the time to do,” said Maloney.

“We have had some challenges,” she added. “Just today, hearing the students and the pride that they take in their school, and the adults in the’s really just helped to bring us together as one.”

Experts say no program has been proven to prevent suicides. The University of Rochester has spent years researching Sources of Strength and has found it could have a positive impact.

Kennedy Jackson has all the proof she needs.

“One of my closest friends, he came to me, not feeling like himself and struggling and just not wanting to be here,” Kennedy said. “And so I knew I had to go to someone for, so I took him to see one of the counselors that I see, and we worked through it and got to his problems.”

“It helps me, knowing that I can help those people,” she added. “I just love it.”

Kennedy knows she is part of the change, creating a different Penfield High School – one that Is learning what it takes to be better.

East Bloomfield and Pittsford also take part in this program, administered by the University of Rochester, because of its track record. It is being added to a growing number of schools across the state. One study found students trained in the program were four times more likely to refer a suicidal friend to an adult.

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