James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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JMU Alumni 'Pay it Forward'

By: Amanda Rivera
Posted: April 15, 2008

Presenting an old idea in a new package, Oprah turned the tables on her audience in a show that aired October 30, 2006.  Known for her extravagant gift giving, the charitable host presented the “Pay it Forward” challenge to faithful viewers who wanted to help others.  It is no surprise that this proposition would attract two JMU alumni.  JMU Psychology graduate Christina Connolly–Wilson and her fellow alumnus husband Gregory Wilson were among the selected group that would receive $1000 and a video camcorder to document an act of generosity or “paying it forward.”  Their only stipulations were that they could not use the money to help out a blood relative and that they must complete the challenge in two weeks.   “As the District-Wide crisis intervention team leader, I knew exactly what I could use my $1000 for.  It was to purchase suicide prevention kits from the Signs of Suicide Prevention Program,” says Christina.

As the Lead Psychologist for Waukegan, Illinois public schools, Christina knew that the three suicides that had occurred that fall at Waukegan High School were more than a coincidence.  “We [school psychologists] are considered by many as the leaders in the building when it comes to problem solving different situations that are found to be difficult in nature in the building,” says Christina.  Working double-time as the District-Wide Crisis Intervention Team leader in addition to her school position, the JMU psychology graduate knew that this was her first priority.  She says, “One of the most important roles of a crisis intervention team is to assist in the prevention of crisis events.  Suicide is one of the most preventable types of death to occur.”

With Oprah’s Pay it Forward challenge Christina was able to give Waukegan public schools what she refers to as the “one-two punch,” which involves the implementation of a crisis intervention effort immediately after a suicide and then a follow up suicide prevention program for the students.  With her and her husband’s combined money they were able to provide suicide prevention kits to all the high school students and most of the middle school students.  “Since Greg and I decided to Pay it Forward by providing the district with an opportunity to stop the suicide contagion in the district, the Screening for Mental Health group that owns the SOS program decided to continue to Pay it Forward to Waukegan Public Schools by donating the additional kits [for the middle schools],” she says.  Enclosed in the high school SOS kit, Christina says “includes a binder with three program lesson plans and materials to conduct the program.  It also has parent and student screening forms in Spanish and English, Education video, SOS reminder ACT cards (Acknowledge, Care, and Tell), Depression pamphlets, a training video, and SOS posters in Spanish and English to hang around the school building.”

The one-two punch proved to be a knockout as the suicide prevention kits yielded big results.  After initial follow-ups at the Upper Grade Center, approximately twelve students were hospitalized and almost 400 who were at risk for suicide and depression were scheduled for further evaluations.  While the Ninth-Grade Center displayed 200 follow-ups with no hospitalizations, a little over ten percent of the middle school population was asked to come back for follow-ups, which resulted in one hospitalization.

“It took almost the entire school year to conduct the program at the entire secondary level (middle and high school), but the program was well worth it since we have not had another completed suicide since its inception!” says Christina.  The team leader states that the instituted program has empowered students to seek adult assistance.  This school year less than 5% of the student population has needed follow-ups with no hospitalizations necessary.  She says, “I cannot promise that the program will keep another completed suicide from occurring.  What I can promise is that with the SOS program, students and adults with learn how to seek out help for themselves and their friends and recognize the signs and symptoms of suicide.”

Looking at the bigger picture, Christina says, “One of the most important things to come out of this situation is the changed district philosophy on mental health trainings.”  As a national trainer in the PREPaRE Crisis Intervention and Prevention curriculum offered through the National Association of School Psychologists, the JMU graduate is proud to relay that school administrations have become more proactive in addressing student mental health.  With the program in its second year, Christina recognizes the Oprah show for its success.  She says, “It has enforced my belief that good things can truly happen even in the worst of times.  It has also furthered my conviction to teach others the importance of crisis prevention and intervention.”