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AUSTIN — When Burnet Middle School teacher and Interact Club sponsor Sara Te set out a little more than two years ago to help students fit in on campus, she never thought it would lead to testifying before a Texas Senate committee.
But it did just that.
Te testified July 18 before the Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security about how Burnet Middle School has benefited from Sandy Hook Promise Foundation programs such as “Start With Hello” and “Say Something.” She also shared with senators how the campus and Burnet Consolidated Independent School District uses the foundation’s Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, which allows students and staff to anonymously report at-risk behavior so school officials and/or first responders can intervene before someone hurts themself or others.
“This hearing focused on prevention plans and social isolation, two things that the programs we use (at Burnet Middle School) help address,” Te said. “I had seen what had come out of (a past) hearing, and I felt there was a gap. This one specifically was about mental health and prevention.”
The recent hearing included invited guests, speakers, and public testimony, in which Te participated. Te visited the committee members in their offices two days before and met with the staff of individual senators.
During that time, several of the staff members expressed interest in the information Te presented them and wished they had known about it weeks before so they could have placed Te on the committee’s invited list. Still, Te was glad to give a few minutes of testimony before the committee.
The two Sandy Hook Promise Foundation programs provide schools, organizations, and communities with tools and ideas to help make people feel included.
Te told the committee about “Start With Hello,” which addresses social isolation by encouraging students to reach out to other youths, and “Say Something,” which teaches students and staff what to do if they hear or know of someone who might be considering harming themself or others.
The third component about which Te talked was the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, an app that students and staff can use to report at-risk behaviors or concerns.
The reporting system is set up specifically for a school or community, so when a report is made, it goes to a crisis center that evaluates the information and forwards it to the necessary local resources.
This past weekend, July 21-22, a parent told Te that their child had become aware of another youth who might have been contemplating suicide. The first youth used the Say Something system to report the information.
Within a minute or two, the first youth was in contact with local dispatch, who sent out officers to investigate. Te said the dispatch and crisis center followed up with the reporting youth and her parent.
“I love that they follow up with you, so, when kids do report something, they don’t think it just goes off into the abyss but (learn that) someone is really listening and responding,” Te added.
During the committee hearing, Te told senators that all the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation programs were free to schools, churches, communities, and organizations.
Te said testifying was a good experience, and she’s already reached out to the staff of the committee members as a followup. She also plans to keep an eye on the upcoming legislative session and continue advocating for school violence prevention programs.
As for Burnet Middle School, the Interact Club will again be leading the “Start With Hello” and “Say Something” initiatives this year.
“We have a new group of sixth-graders coming in who haven’t been introduced to these programs,” Te said. “And we can’t wait to share it with them.”