It’s time to reach ‘different’ kids

Even if firearms restrictions are approved, which will be a tough fight, leaders will be left wondering what more they can do to prevent a tragedy in their own community such as the one that struck Newtown, Conn. Friday, Dec. 14.

Why wait for the government to find a solution to attack such a complex problem and prevent a Newtown massacre?

There’s merit in trying to prevent young, “different” troubled people in the community from doing the unthinkable.

One profile common to most of the shooters is they are young, intelligent and in some cases, loners craving attention.

We’re struck by the fact that once again, former students who attended school with the shooter, Adam Lanza, didn’t know much about him. One former classmate said he wasn’t connected to other kids. Another said he was “weird since he was 5 years old” and another said, “He obviously was not well.”

Perhaps one strategy for a community and a school system is to get involved with the so-called “different” students and help them through their mental health issues.

Is it possible for a community to mobilize resources and maybe even assign mentors to the so-called “different” students?

High school officials know who the troubled kids are. Terrence Bizal, principal at Elk River High School, says school officials need to identify those troubled and different students, some with mental health issues, consult with the parents, create a plan, work with mental health therapists in the schools and involve the community.

Rotary clubs have STRIVE programs, where clubs work all year long with senior students who need help to graduate. It is having amazing results.

Maybe there’s a similar model to reach  youth struggling to fit in. The local YMCA’s, Boys & Girls Clubs and other youth support groups could be involved in supporting the school’s plan for the troubled student.

One area for the community to consider is sheltering homeless students.  In the Anoka-Hennepin school district last year, 600 students were homeless part of that year.

In Anoka-Hennepin, 50 churches are willing to work with families in need.

Close-in suburban school districts partner with local and county agencies to help troubled students.

But it’s asking too much of a school system to solve all the problems of the “different” students, especially now when school budgets are being cut along with the number of counselors.

If the total community were to help the disturbed students, perhaps it could prevent a Newtown.

In this case it does take a village to raise the student with mental health issues, without labeling them and maintaining their privacy and dignity. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers columnist