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Grad students in the counseling program completed the project for 7th and 8th graders.
Students present suicide prevention program
Future counselors address 'silent epidemic'
Leah Jackson

NATCHITOCHES – Graduate students who are aspiring school counselors from Northwestern State University’s College of Education and Human Development completed a service-learning initiative that addressed suicide prevention for seventh and eighth grade students at Pineville Junior High School.

“Research shows that suicide is considered a ‘silent epidemic’ and has claimed the lives of more teenagers and young adults than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined and is a major public health problem within our nation,” said Dr. Gerra Perkins, coordinator of the counseling program at Northwestern State. “The National Institute of Mental Health's most recent report shows an alarming, almost decade-long trend of gradual increase in suicide completions. Disturbingly, it is estimated that only 36 percent of youth at-risk for suicide in the past year received mental health counseling. The majority of counseling/treatment received came through school-based programs, underscoring the vital importance of supporting these programs within our area schools.”

Perkins and 11 students visited the school to implement the program and provide support to the Pineville Junior High Health Center, which serves seventh and eighth graders. In collaboration with the counselor from the health center, NSU alum Kayla Milstead, students in Northwestern State’s school counseling program presented a series of four guidance lessons on suicide prevention to the eighth grade student body through the health/physical education classes.

“The goal of this curriculum was to provide students with knowledge, skills, and strategies that would enable them to help a friend, or themselves, who may be considering suicide,” Perkins said.

Students who presented lessons were Wendy Brewer, Crystal Burch, Jennifer Carroll, J.P. Guerineau, Lacie Hughes, Danielle Jones, Michael Lacour, Cathy Mullen, Anna-Kate Oglesby, Latoyia Pea and Shalonda Todd.

“Going to Pineville Junior High to implement the curriculum we designed was an unbelievable experience,” according to Oglesby.

“The experience at PJH was one I will never forget,” Jones said. “In the process of helping these young students I was also helping myself grow as a future school counselor.”

Echoing those sentiments, Carroll said she was filled with gratitude for the experience.

“It helped to remind me why I chose this program and made all the hard work worth it,” she said.

“As we reflected on the week and shared stories, it was apparent that we all felt the week was well worth every second of stress and planning,” Burch said. “We cried, talked, shared and made future plans. We all left knowing that we made a difference.”

Perkins expressed gratitude to the administrators and colleagues in the College of Education and Human Development who chose to fund the service learning project through funds from the Melba Law Steeg Endowment. She also expressed thanks to Columbus Goodman, principal at Pineville Jr. High for his support and vision, to Milstead for her collaboration and enthusiasm for meeting student needs, and to the eighth grade coaches and students at PJH for the warm welcome.

“It is amazing to work with professionals who recognize and place a priority on meeting the mental health needs of our children and adolescents. And, it was an absolute pleasure to see our NSU students in action. I am continually amazed by their dedication and passion for school counseling,” she said.

For more information on the counseling program at Northwestern State, visit or contact Perkins by e-mailing or calling (318) 357-6915.