Programs available to prevent violence in Southwest Florida schools

Reporter: Morgan Rynor
Published: Updated:
Gun recovered by Lee County deputies from 12-year-old student at Harns Marsh Middle School in Buckingham. (Credit: Lee County Sheriff's Office)
Gun recovered by Lee County deputies from 12-year-old student at Harns Marsh Middle School in Buckingham. (Credit: Lee County Sheriff’s Office)

While students are enjoying Christmas break, on Friday, a 12-year-old boy was arrested for having a gun in his backpack at Harns Marsh Middle School. There are several programs at the school’s fingertips to keep children safe. Among them, Charity for Change, helps kids see beyond their differences and helps them become compassionate leaders.

Therese O’Brien, a mother of three children, knows a kid can never have too much support.

“I would hope that they would be able to come to me, but you know, let’s be realistic,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes, the parents are not, no matter how much you think you have communication with them. So, it would be nice if they had a second or third person they could go to.”

O’Brien is thrilled to hear that Lee County is starting a pilot program at two elementary schools to integrate mental health navigators. A navigator helps families find the right treatments, programs and support they may need.

Alex Solenberg, who is also a mother, said that is immensely important.

“The sooner you catch it,” Solenberg said, “the easier it will be to help them for the rest of their life.”

A separate program in Collier County, Charity for Change, addresses the root program of school violence. Karen Conley, the CEO of Charity for Change, said the program teaches social and emotional learning.

“The approach is really to teach children to understand their emotions and then to be able to manage those emotions,” Conley said.

Charity for change works with kids starting in pre-kindergarten. The mental navigators at Ray V. Pottorf Elementary School must have extensive experience working with a family member of their own who has suffered from mental or behavioral health conditions.

“I would be incredibly thankful if my kid ever needed that,” Solenberg said. “It’s incredibly important for them to be helped out initially.”

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