Editorial: Program shows individuals can have an impact against school violence
In an era when the tendency is to emotionally demand sweeping solutions to complex problems, it is encouraging to consider the work of Karen and Robert Fitzgerald and the Alexian Brothers School Mental Health Program.
For nearly 10 years, the Alexian program has provided on-site counseling, crisis intervention and mental health education at 20 middle and high schools in the Northwest suburbs. Twenty sites is not an overwhelming force in a region that is home to hundreds of high schools and middle schools. That's where the Fitzgeralds come in. They are organizers behind a golf outing that aims to raise money to expand the program to more suburban schools.
In a Daily Herald story this week by correspondent Eileen O. Daday, Karen Fitzgerald, of Inverness, addressed the role that mental health plays in school violence and youth suicide. She cited statistics showing that a fifth of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 live with a mental health condition.
"There's just a huge need for somewhere for these kids to go and talk to someone," she said.
Newspaper front pages, broadcast newscasts and social media feeds all too often reflect the consequences of failing to meet that need -- though it must be said that school violence is merely the most prominent product of inadequate mental health services. This help isn't just a bulwark against the occasional troubled individual who may bring mass violence to the school grounds. It's also a resource for helping the hundreds of kids whose private suffering can lead to more frequent school and personal problems.
Officials noted, for instance, that schools which have implemented the special counseling are beginning to see reductions in absenteeism, truancy and psychiatric hospitalizations.
The Alexian Brothers Foundation raises money to support the schools currently using the program. Philanthropists and volunteers like the Fitzgeralds are essential to its growth. The golf outing scheduled for June 25 hopes to raise enough money to expand the service to three more schools. The experience will include a speech by a former FBI agent wounded in 1988 by a school shooter to help reinforce the need for this kind of work.
It is commendable work. A lone golf outing or a simple supplementary mental health program in just 20 suburban schools are not alone going to entirely rid us of the scourge of violence on school campuses. But they will certainly have a small impact that can be nurtured and expanded.
And perhaps just as important, they demonstrate that while we search in vain for comprehensive social and political approaches to complex problems, concerned individuals and groups can still make constructive, positive progress toward solutions.