Sanctuary Room follow-up: What guidance services are offered?

By Maddy Buffardi
Managing and Student Life Editor

In January 2013, the Playwickian published an unsigned editorial expressing how the editorial board felt it was essential that the Sanctuary Room be reintroduced into Neshaminy.

The Sanctuary Room, created in 2006 following multiple suicides in the 2004-2005 school year, was established in hopes of creating a safe haven for students.

The editorial was written following numerous tragedies suffered by the school community. The school has been through so much in a short amount of time that a program like the Sanctuary Room, or even just a few extra counselors, psychologists or social workers would seem to be essential.

As hard as the guidance department does try, it’s difficult to see every student precisely when they need to be seen, forcing students to make appointments several days after they actually need to see someone. The Sanctuary Room was created as a way to counteract this problem, giving students a place where they can go at any time to take a breath, or if they need to, speak to a counselor.

Following budget cuts in 2012 the Sanctuary Room and its staff were removed from Neshaminy High School. After the editorial was published in January, the issue was discussed at a school board meeting on Feb. 19, 2013. During this meeting, superintendent Robert Copeland acknowledged that money was secured from Bucks County funds and would be provided to an outside social services agency that would come into the high school and work with students dealing with social and emotional issues.

At the time, Copeland declined to say what outside agency would be used because the details were not yet finalized. Joseph Funk, director of the county’s health and human services division, confirmed that $50,000 had been secured to use toward the effort.

Also during this meeting, it was decided that they would likely run a test program beginning March 1 and ending in December 2013. It wasn’t specified what exactly constitutes for a “successful” program, or how they would make a final decision on whether or not to continue the program.

If a test program is operating, it is hardly evident. At this point many students have no idea what the Sanctuary Room was, or that during these test months they have alternate sources available.

When contacted, the superintendent said the test program currently operating is called, Youth Mental Health First Aide. The fate of the program is still very unclear. The district has enough money to fund the program through March 2014 though the contract from K and S expires in December. “We are looking into whether the county will continue to support the program or not,” Copeland said.

The whole point of the former Sanctuary Room, or reintroducing something similar to it, is to help students who are struggling. In order to help the student body, it’s necessary to make such a service common knowledge to the student body, which Neshaminy has seemingly failed to do.

When Bucks County Commissioner, Diane Marseglia, was contacted she said that to her knowledge the Sanctuary Room is up and running, adding that she has visited the school and had seen the room and spoken to staff. Marseglia also stated that the $50,000 is being used to pay a counselor, Danielle Stein. Stein belongs to an outside counseling agency called K and S.

“While not perfect, I think this is a very good option and it is critical that Neshaminy keep it as it is or improve it to insure the full emotional and mental health safety of its students. I am proud, as a commissioner and resident of the Neshaminy district, that this concept continues,” Marseglia said.
Stein, declined to comment on the matter, adding that she wasn’t sure if she was permitted to do so.
Students should be able to access information about this program, since it is a program for the benefit of the students.

In hopes of seeing the program from a student perspective how “up and running” Youth Mental Health First Aide program really is, an unnamed student was sent down to ask if she could sit down and recollect herself. The student told the guidance department that she was feeling very overwhelmed and had heard about the Sanctuary Room and was hoping she could take a seat in there during her lunch, until she felt better.

The student was then informed by guidance that the Sanctuary Room hasn’t existed in over a year. Guidance followed normal procedure and asked the student her last name in order to locate her regular counselor, after acknowledging that her regular counselor was very busy, guidance asked the student if she would be interested in speaking to an assistant counselor (Stein). The student said that she wasn’t interested in talking to anyone but wanted to be able to just sit somewhere and calm down, she was again informed that the Sanctuary Room didn’t exist, but if it was absolutely essential she could sit in the grad project planning room.

There seems to be a huge miscommunication regarding the matter and the term ‘up and running’ appears to be used quite loosely in this situation. While the $50,000 is definitely being used to pay Stein to come to the school, the Sanctuary Room as the students have known in the past is still not a functioning part of Neshaminy.

The Neshaminy School District needs to find a way to continue funding support programs for students. The district also needs to communicate the services of the Youth Mental Health First Aide program to the students, parents, teachers, as well. The president of the school board, Ritchie Webb, as well as assistant principal, Lisa Pennington, have been contacted but both have not responded.