Students from Kyrene middle schools as well as representatives of the Kyrene Student/Superintendent Council were among the estimated 5,000 fifth- and sixth-graders from across the Valley who converged on Grand Canyon University’s campus Jan. 21 for the third annual conference by “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life,” an organization that educates and empowers young people to look out for one another.
Students learned to recognize the warning signs of bullying, depression and suicide among their peers. “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life” encourages students to tell a trusted adult when they see the warning signs and aims to eliminate the stigma associated with “telling” on a friend.
Things have gotten much, much worse in schools these days,” a university spokesman said. “The people who work there profess it, and the suicide rate among young people proves it. The biggest culprit? Those modern conveniences.”
“Speak Up” co-founder Dr. Lily Matos DeBlieux said, “It’s easy to hide behind social media and call someone a punk, ugly, dirty, which is why it’s getting worse nowadays. “They can be having a beautiful day and, all of a sudden, they open up social media and there they are – people are talking about them, sending out bad pictures about them.”
Kyrene spokeswoman Erin Helm noted that Kyrene middle school students already are taking charge of the message.
Last spring, Kyrene Aprende Middle School students began wearing bracelets with the number to a student tip line, and they produced videos that aired on campus promoting a culture of awareness.
This year, the collaboration that began at Kyrene Aprende Middle School with “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life” is spreading throughout the district.
“This program supports Kyrene’s emphasis on social-emotional learning, a key component to teaching the whole child,” said Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely. “One of the most important goals in Kyrene’s strategic plan is our commitment to high-performing students, and we consider social-emotional stability and resilience essential to our students’ success.”
All told at the conference, 156 schools were represented – 48 more than last year. There also were 12 police chiefs, eight assistant chiefs and 138 officers from 28 agencies.
“It’s schools, law enforcement and business leaders all coming forward to make a difference,” said Gina Godbehere, an attorney in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office who worked with DeBliieux to create Speak Up, Stand Up. Save a Life.
“There’s a real need right now,” she said. “Suicide rates are out of control. “
The opioid crisis is believed to be another sign of the desperation too many young people feel to escape the toxicity of their daily environment. School officials are desperate for antidotes and believe that the key – as the organization’s name suggests – is to get students to speak up.
The 2019 “Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life Youth Conference” focused on the impact of technology on self-esteem and how students’ devices and social media accounts can contribute to feelings of low self-worth, which puts young people at a higher risk for self-harm. Other topics at the five-hour event included the opioid crisis and school safety.
“The Kyrene School District believes these student-led initiatives will catch on and be powerful enough to convince students to speak up when they see warning signs, stand up for students in distress, and yes, maybe even save a life,” Helm said.
-Grand Canyon University News reporter Rick Vacek contributed to this report.