By Mark Rountree
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER — Stillwater Public Schools will train educators and staff to watch for signs that a student is depressed or suicidal, Superintendent Ann Caine said Tuesday.
“It has to be a focused effort,” said Caine, who was one of 52 school administrators and more than 200 junior high students attending a funeral service Tuesday for Cade Poulos, a 13-year-old Stillwater Junior High School eighth-grader who committed suicide with a single gunshot to the head in a school hallway on Sept. 26.
“It just breaks my heart to think of losing even one of our students,” Caine said. “We’re looking at all of our practices. We’re looking at how our counselors are using their day. We’re looking at how much training we are doing for all of our staff, not just putting the burden on our counselors but all of us, administrators, teachers, bus drivers, custodial.”
Caine said building relationships with each of Stillwater’s 6,000 students is critical.
“We need to have all of our students have at least one adult in our schools that they are connected with,” Caine said. “It’s not all about test scores and achievement. It’s also about our relationships with students. We are a high-performing district. We are going to continue to be high-performing, but it’s about relationships with students. That is why we are here.
“We will grieve for Cade and his family. I can’t even imagine what they are going through. But moving forward, as we are going through our healing process, we are going to look at what can we do better about suicide prevention and training all over our staff districtwide and making sure that every adult in our district has a relationship with at least one student.”
Caine said Poulos would not have appeared to be a young man who would take his own life.
“Cade did not have the signs of someone who had the typical signs of someone who had suicidal tendencies,” Caine said. “Everyone I’ve talked to in the last week keeps telling me how happy he was. He had a small group of close friends, he played in the orchestra. He didn’t have the typical signs of someone who would do this.”
School board member Kevin Clark said the healing process continues.
“I’m saddened by the whole situation,” Clark said. “Cade was a great kid, and it’s just a wonderful family, and I’m just saddened by what they are going through. It’s been a shock to them. I just wish they didn’t have to deal with this. I think all of us as parents have to ask ourselves those questions. It makes us look at our kids more closely. It’s a time of internal reflection for people right now.”
LifeChurch officials said 845 people attended Tuesday’s funeral service. There were few if any empty chairs in a sanctuary filled with family, friends, classmates, teachers, school administrators and members of the Stillwater community.
Memorial banners signed by classmates, teachers, administrators and friends were placed in the front hallway of the church.
Joel Wilkey, youth pastor at LifeChurch, said just a week before Cade Poulos died he answered an altar call during a youth group and accepted Jesus as his savior.
“Cade said yes to Jesus,” Wilkey said. “His soul is very much alive. He is in eternity right now.”
Wilkey was one of many people who spoke about Poulos during the funeral service.
Wilkey gestured toward the closed, white coffin and said while Poulos’ physical life has ended, his spirit is alive.
“Cade would say that you got to believe that life after death is real,” said Wilkey, turning and addressing the students. “It’s OK to mourn. And it’s OK to remember the happy times too.”
Since the tragedy, there has been an outpouring of community support for the family and the school.
School officials said several restaurants have brought food to the school for teachers and staff, and concerned residents have brought doughnuts and drinks to the school. Several parents of students have volunteered to assist where needed at school.
A Stillwater coffee shop provided free coffee, hot chocolate and iced tea in the lobby of the church at the funeral, and a Stillwater restaurant provided a free lunch to the family after a private burial in Stillwater. A memorial fund has been established at Stillwater National Bank to help the family with expenses.