By Heather Graves
SUAMICO – Mixed reactions are coming out of the Bay Port High School community as a presentation that was meant to address teen mental health and suicide has stirred up controversy.
“I believe that the district had positive intentions when inviting Jeff Yalden to speak, and in no way do I blame our staff/administrators,” said 16-year-old Shannon Norton, a junior at Bay Port High School. “However, (Yalden) put many of my peers in an uncomfortable situation and I will not excuse him for that.”
The presentation, titled “Strength in Numbers: Supporting Youth Mental Health” by guest speaker, Yalden – was held at Bay Port yesterday morning.
“He started off saying he had a lot of anxiety and that he doesn’t normally talk to groups this big,” said freshman Julia Sheahan. “There were many times that he would just scream into the microphone.”
According to Brian Nicol, director of communications for the Howard-Suamico School District, Yalden was recommended to the district by both Allies in Mental Health and the Suicide Collation.
Nicol said while many agreed it is an important topic of discussion, for some the tone and delivery caused concerns.
Julia Witt, of Suamico, said the presentation made her daughter feel uncomfortable.
“She felt like she didn’t have an option to leave because of how he engaged and singled out students,” Witt said. “I think the school could spend that money in a more helpful way that integrates mental health within the curriculum daily.”
Kristin Kroening, of Suamico, said her son, a senior at Bay Port, felt the presentation was honest and eye-opening.
“I think it was a very necessary teaching tool for what’s ahead in the world for young people,” Kroening said. “This is not the same world we grew up in, it’s much tougher.”
Parents in the Howard-Suamico School District got a letter from Superintendent Damian LaCroix Friday morning apologizing.
“I am writing to extend an apology for the presentation at Bay Port High School yesterday which did not reflect our high expectations for a message on this topic,” the letter stated.
The district canceled a planned presentation today at Bay View Middle School.
“While we recognize that some students and parents had a positive response, we received substantial student, parent and staff feedback to inform our decision to cancel at Bay View today,” – the letter stated.
According to some parents and students, an ambulance was called to Bay Port following the presentation for students experiencing panic attacks.
“He went into great detail about a suicide and how he could have stopped it,” said Sheahan. “After that at least 10 people got up and left and one student was having a panic attack and passed out and an ambulance was called.”
Nicol confirmed that one ambulance was called to the high school yesterday for a student health issue, however, he would not comment whether or not it was connected to the assembly.
Yalden has been posting on Twitter following some of the negative reaction to the presentation.
“Thank you @BayPortHS for having me as a guest speaker. Thank you to the amazing counselors I got to work with today and the amazing students. To those haters, I’m sorry you missed the message. Wishing you all much success.”
“Dear @BayPortHS Community: It’s been a long night. Heart hurts heavily. THANK YOU: school counselors, staff, teachers, admin, students. I honestly thought we had a great day. You are all amazing! I only wanted to speak from my heart and plant seeds. NEVER would I hurt anyone.”
Senior Sawyer Mann thought Yalden brought up a lot of valid points
“One point I agree with is this generation is too sucked into their technology,” Mann said. “He talked about the dopamine effect our phones have on us, which have isolated ourselves from the world and living double lives online as our pastime, which creates a withdrawal effect on students – which leads to higher depression rate and feelings of loneliness.”
Lauren Sheahan, Julia’s mom, said she was excited to hear they were having the assembly, but thinks it missed the mark.
At least one student agrees.
“His message was ill-delivered and inappropriate for any audience,” Norton said. “His insufficient trigger warning caused a lot of harm to multiple students and seemed unnecessary to the point of his speech. I don’t believe Yalden should have the opportunity to speak to today’s youth if this is the performance he is consistently delivering.”