Program deployed for more than 8,000 students in 21 schools

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AZTEC — Middle and high school students across San Juan County learned how to identify possible life-threatening or nonlife-threatening behavior that could help prevent a tragedy or save the life of a fellow student today.

The Aztec, Bloomfield, Central Consolidated and Farmington school districts deployed the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System to more than 8,000 students in 21 schools.

The program is provided by the nonprofit organization Sandy Hook Promise, which was founded by some of the family members of victims of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The program is designed to provide middle and high school students, and the community with an outlet to anonymously report tips through a smartphone app, a website or a telephone number operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"There are many cases where this app has saved lives and prevented tragedies," Aztec Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said. "It's something we need to happen to make sure kids get involved and use it appropriately."

Students at Aztec High School filed into the school's multipurpose room today and were given an overview on possible behavior to report and how to report it. Middle and high school students countywide were instructed on use of the program.

Dahlia Perryman, a senior trainer for Sandy Hook Promise, spoke to the seniors and shared stories about two friends who showed signs they needed help.

Perryman said she regrets not speaking up about one friend, who died by suicide.

She said she was glad she reached out to another friend's mother regarding her daughter possibly needing help. Perryman stated their friendship ended after the incident, but she added her former friend is alive and doing well.

Students were taught by Perryman about the differences between a warning sign, a warning signal and a threat in terms of reporting behavior.

Warning signs are behaviors, thoughts and feelings that indicate a person is going through a significant change or is need of help. Extreme mood changes, significant personality changes and thoughts or plans of harming themselves or others are some of the warning signs Perryman shared.

A warning signal is usually an action or gesture that is vague, Perryman said. Signals include bragging about access to guns, fascination with writings or drawings of death and a person giving away their possessions.

Some of the threats mentioned included students stating they would blow up a school, saying everyone would be better off without them and stating life isn't worth living.

The program is free for the participating school districts.  

Sandy Hook Promise provides training and management of the anonymous tip system to students and school districts. It also pays operational expenses to keep the program running in a school district.

Some of the training was provided to local law enforcement officials and dispatchers at the San Juan County Communications Authority. Dave Ripley, director of county dispatch, said dispatchers and operation managers were trained to handle call's from the nonprofit's crisis center.

"When there is a more immediate threat, we are contacted to deal with that," Ripley said.

Depending on the severity of the information shared, the program's crisis center will contact dispatch or share information with local law enforcement and school officials, Lt. Al Jamison of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office said.

After receiving information on a possible incident, Sheriff's Office school resource officers or members of a crisis intervention team can be deployed to help provide a student the resources he or she needs, Jamison said.

"I think this app is going to give people a way to report things they may not have reported before," Jamison said.

Carpenter hopes to get the program into every school district across New Mexico.

"We're driving forward because we owe that to all of our kids and the legacy of Casey and Paco," Carpenter said, referring to Francisco "Paco" Fernandez and Casey Marquez, who were killed during the Aztec High School shooting on Dec. 7.

"We can't change what happened to us, but we have full control of how we go forward," Carpenter said.

More information on the program can be found at https://www.sandyhookpromise.org.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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