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Some parents hear advice on teen suicide

Kalai Herko took notice when her son, an Interboro High School senior, quietly slipped her a folded piece of paper.

Kalai Herko took notice when her son, an Interboro High School senior, quietly slipped her a folded piece of paper.

"Here, read this," he told her.

"This" turned out to be an invitation sent out by the Delaware County school's administration announcing a workshop for parents and families after three teen suicides.

Herko made it a priority to attend the Wednesday night session. But when she saw how sparse the attendance was - about 50 parents from a district of more than 3,600 students - the Glenolden mother of three was upset.

"I'm so angry. There should be more support from parents," said Herko, 37, looking around a cafeteria filled with tables where about 30 mental-health groups and support agencies had set up their brochures and schwag - key chains, candies, Frisbees, and stress balls.

The two-hour workshop - titled "Support for Parents and Families in Troubled Times" - also offered talks on communication, teen drug issues, social networking, and warning signs of suicidal behavior.

"It is hard to get parents to come to things like this," said Suzanne Robinson, a psychologist with the Psychological Services and Human Development Center.

Interboro Superintendent Nancy Hacker said she was also disappointed in the turnout. She proposed the seminar after two girls took their lives by stepping into the path of a train on Feb. 25 and a third student hanged himself a few weeks later.

The district, Hacker said, was faced with one of the "worst tragedies" it has ever encountered.

In the days immediately after the girls' deaths, Hacker said, the school was filled with counselors and representatives from support groups.

About 300 students met with mental-health professionals in the weeks after the suicides, Hacker said. "There was a lot of listening and talking."

Those efforts might have helped prevent other tragedies, she said, adding that a number of other students were referred for crisis intervention.

But the school needed to do something more, she said: "There are a lot of students and families who don't know where to look for help."

The district waited to hold the workshop until this week, acknowledging the wounds were still too fresh.

For the first time, there are plans to have a counselor available during summer school for students in the district whether they are taking classes or not. Area churches will offer summer activities for students for the first time.

Bob DuAime came to the workshop to hear what experts had to say about navigating teen conversations.

The Glenolden father said he learned how to parent from his parents but has come to realize the "old-school rules" might not be the best approach with his 21st-century, text-savvy daughter.

"If I don't pay attention to her, I am going to lose her," DuAime said.