Lake Forest focuses on emotional health
Dr. Meg Meeker shared parenting tips at a recent meeting of LEAD, or Leading Efforts Against Drugs. She said some kids can be overly pressured by living in a "high-performance community." | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
LAKE FOREST — Falling together during a crisis rather than falling apart.
That’s the goal of the Community Wellness Task Force begun last spring to bring a combination of support and emotional health education to students, parents, educators and the community at large.
Results of that coordinated effort have restarted a peer training program for students at Lake Forest High School, established a fee-free counselor at CROYA (Committee Representing Our Young Adults) and brought out local parents to two local talks by Dr. Meg Meeker, a leading national authority on parenting, teens and children’s health.
“A lot of work has been done through the efforts of the community,” said LFHS Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Julie Cooley, who is leading the efforts of the task force. The group was formed following the suicides of three Lake Forest High School male students who died after walking in front of oncoming trains last spring.
Meeker told nearly 90 moms at the breakfast sponsored Oct. 10 by LEAD (Leading Efforts Against Drugs) to “be strong enough to stand up” to pressures of living in what she described as a high-performance community.
“Stop competing with each other,” she said. “Your kids are getting the message, ‘My life is about the stuff I do.’”
In her morning talk, Meeker picked up where she left off the night before, addressing 180 parents on how to find family balance in a challenging culture.
Nancy Collins of Lake Forest, mother of two children under 6 years old, attended both. The parenting message she gleaned from Meeker’s talks was “love them, love them, love them. Give them attention and never stop hugging them,” even if they act like they don’t like it, Collins said.
For the students, CROYA and the high school have brought back the peer-training program stopped a few years ago due to reduced staffing at CROYA. About 60 students signed up for the program this fall and are meeting in small groups of about 10 during their lunch.
“We’re teaching kids how to be an active listener, a good friend and a leader, because we’ve realized that a lot of kids, when they have a problem, the first person they go to is a friend,” said Joanne Yorro, CROYA program manager.
The sessions also help forge a trusting relationship with a high school social worker and a CROYA staff member, key contacts for when an adult needs to be called in, Yorro said.
Cooley said another outcome of the task force, training in the Adolescent Depression Awareness Program, will be expanded to all health teachers, social workers and deans at LFHS by the end of October. All faculty will review the signs and symptoms of depression training, she said.
In addition, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital has mobilized pediatricians who work through the hospital to screen students for depression during their annual physicals and for teens coming through the ER.
The Lake Forest and Lake Bluff police departments, working with the hospital, also initiated a communications crisis hub.
“If any tragedies occur, the leaders will be better informed and more quickly informed,” Cooley said.