‘Losing the wrong people’: RCSD student looks to create mental health course after uptick in violence

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — After a recent uptick in violence at Rochester City Schools, one student is working to promote change and increase safety by writing a new mental health literacy course for students. 

Isaiah Santiago is a senior at the School of the Arts and he’s seen violence become more of an issue this year. 

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen School of the Arts, honestly. In 10th grade, I believe I only saw one fight year. This year, I believe I’ve seen around five,” Santiago said. 

Just this week, Santiago lost a friend of his to gun violence. He was just 15-years-old when he was shot to death on the city’s northeast side. 

“Jamere… he was a bright man, no matter what you’re going through, when Jamere came, he had you smiling at some point. He had a lot of personality and he was definitely an amazing young man,” Santiago said. 

Santiago said losing Jamere really opened his eyes, but it also made his efforts increase school safety even more important. 

“We all have to look at this as a way for us to step in and be a part of the change. Check on your young people, the son or the daughter that you haven’t talked to in a couple of months. I promise you they’re hurting, check on him. Call them today and check on them. Because right now we have a lot of hurt young people,” he said. 

The violence and hurt seen in schools is why Santiago is creating a mental health literacy class for middle and high school students. He’s started a committee with a dozen other students to help him write that course. 

“I noticed that the reason why we see this violence is a results are hurt young people that simply do not know how to deal with their hurt, but to hurt others and temporarily satisfy their hurt by getting to negative things, again fights and stuff like that,” Santiago said. “If we had an opportunity to help our youth identify, problem solve, and resolve mental illness and their hurt the right way, it would definitely help bring down our violence and also help our community all together.”

The course would have three parts. The first, recognizing one’s mental health. 

“We plan at first to identify the mental illness, because right now we have young people who don’t really know that this is because ‘I’m depressed or this is because I have anxiety,’ they don’t really understand that. So the first half will be identifying mental illness and stuff like that, like depression and anxiety and frustration and stuff like that,” Santiago said. 

The second part is problem-solving the issues. The third, to resolve. 

“The third part will be kind of to resolve. So we problem solve, now let’s deal with this issue. And then finalize this issue right now,” he said. 

Santiago says he hopes this course will help students deal with their emotions in a positive way, instead of resorting to violence. He also hopes it will help shine a light on the importance of mental health. 

“There’s a stigma in our community to be afraid and to be ashamed to say, ‘I’m depressed. Hey, I’m sad.’ You know, and this is a new thing that we are now kind of seeing that mental illness is really an issue,” Santiago said. “We’ve been putting it on the back burner for a long time, it’s time to put it on the front because it’s really an issue.”

To write the course, the students will be working with therapists and counselors. Once they’re done writing, they will present it to the district for approval. 

Santiago said at first the plan is to have the course be an elective, but he hopes it becomes required for students eventually.

On Saturday, RCSD is holding a Community Initiative Action plan with students and parents to address safety at schools. The meeting is being held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Franklin High School. 

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