Suicide High School Gets Relief From Ranking

The 2009 Gunn High School graduating class will be in cap and gown tonight, but many with heavy hearts.

After several weeks of bad press, Newsweek magazine gave Gunn High School in Palo Alto a gift -- ranking it in the top .01 percent of public high schools in the country.

The magazine published the list of the top 1,500 U.S. high schools earlier this week. They are ranked based on the number of 2008 Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests taken divided by the number in the graduating class.

You may remember that Gunn has been in the news following two suicides and one attempted suicide in recent weeks.

A month ago junior JP Blanchard walked in front of a Caltrain near campus.  Last week, graduating senior Sonya Raymakers stood in the same spot to her death.

Then later that week, while parents were being counseled how to deal with suicide and depression, a third student stood on the tracks only to be pulled off by his mother and a passer by. 

Because of the suicide news, the ranking is seen as good news on campus. 

The top ranked Bay Area school is Lowell High School in San Francisco.  It came in at No. 68.

Gunn is No. 114.  It is followed by Summit Prep High School, ranked 118.

Other local high schools on the list include Monta Vista in Cupertino (138), Andrew Hill in San Jose (202), and Mission San Jose in Fremont (226).

24-hour a day Bay Area suicide prevention resources:

 Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance

 Adolescent Counseling Services, the group that organized the  forum, is working with Gunn High School on "next steps and where we go from  here," said Scott Laurence, an administrator at Gunn High School. Caltrain is  also planning a safety education program at Gunn in the fall, Dunn said.

Various resources are available for Santa Clara County residents experiencing a crisis, including a 24-hour suicide hotline that offers  counseling over the phone. Many of the volunteers who staff the line have  survived a loved one's suicide, said Gabby Olivarez, a senior mental health  program specialist with the county and manager of the suicide prevention  program.

The county also runs a suicide survivors' group where residents who have lost loved ones meet and support one another.

Olivarez said a basic mental health education can help parents and others recognize warning signs of suicidal behavior.

Those include disengaging from friends, family and social  networks, losing interest in activities, and talk of suicidal thoughts.  However, other signs can be less clear, she said.

"Feeling depressed, lack of sleep, no energy, fatigue: those are really signs of depression that can be linked to suicide," she said.

Teens who are still developing a sense of self-awareness often don't recognize they have a problem, she said.

"Younger people are very impulsive and more likely to do something and not think about it," she said.

However Olivarez said that in her experience, "there is always some kind of sign."

The hotline, which can see up to 100 calls a day, especially  around the holidays, is taking many calls from people who have lost their  jobs and struggling with financial issues, she said.

The service is staffed 24 hours a day. Residents in the north county can call 650-494-8420, and residents in the south county can call 408-683-2482.

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