What was done? What could have been done? What will be done for others? These are some of the questions that residents have been asking over the past month since 16-year old W.C. Mepham student James Clare tragically took his own life by descending onto the tracks of the Bellmore Long Island Railroad station on the snowy evening of Dec. 19, where he was hit and killed by an eastbound train.

His untimely death, together with the similar tragedy that befell Calhoun High School student Lyla Stern just over a year ago on Jan. 13, 2009, continue to impact fellow teens throughout the Bellmore-Merrick community, countless parents and other residents, well beyond their bereft families.

The loss has caused residents and officials attending Bellmore-Merrick Central High School and some district elementary school board of education meetings to ask what was and can be done to identify and help other distraught youngsters to prevent such devastating incidents in the future.

School District Meetings

At this month's CHSD meeting, for example, North Merrick resident and public library trustee George Brucia suggested suicide awareness and prevention seminars to "educate our youth so we can take the appropriate action."

A former Mepham grad stressed that the same effort and attention that went into the turf field project, which has been debated repeatedly for close to two years at board meetings, should be directed toward this issue.

Board President Diane Seaman responded that the administration is looking into "further education for the staff to be more proactive."

At the Merrick Elementary School Board of Education meeting this month, officials discussed ways its elementary schools could reach out to troubled students.

Neither North Merrick nor North Bellmore residents or board of education officials raised concerns about the teen tragedies or related resources at their respective meetings held Jan. 12 and 14. The Bellmore Elementary School Board of Education meeting takes place on Jan. 19.

Elementary School-Level Initiatives

When asked about the recent tragedies and what resources are made available to students in the North Bellmore Elementary School District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Marilyn Johnson said, "There are a number of district-wide initiatives addressing anxiety, depression and suicide prevention."

Since alcohol abuse played a role in James Clare's tragedy, according to statements made by his father Jerry Clare, alcohol and drug abuse deterrence also relate.

In both the North Bellmore and Bellmore Elementary School Districts, social workers and psychologists work to spot and help youngsters with emotional or social issues that might lead to poor decisions later on.

"We do a tremendous amount of drug and alcohol abuse [prevention] activities," explained School Social Worker Joan Sass.Much is done just to identify issues, she said, adding that while children may know that something is wrong or bothering them, they may not have the right words to identify what is going on."We make it safe to talk," she said, which is key to intervention.

On a formal basis, North Bellmore district's longstanding Prevention program offers a multi-faceted program to students in grades 2 through 6 designed to establish a supportive environment in the school and to foster healthy habits at an early age. The program teaches healthy problem solving and decision making skills to encourage behavior change, making substance abuse prevention part of the curriculum.

Second-graders participate in BABES (Beginning Alcohol and Addictions Basic Education Studies) World, in which social workers use puppets to tell stories to present complex concepts about making healthy choices.

Students in grades 3 to 5 participate in LifeSkills, which uses group discussions, reinforcement, role-playing and problem-solving to teach skills for resisting tobacco, alcohol and drugs and avoiding high-risk situations, as well as helping students to develop interpersonal relationships, manage their emotions, handle social anxiety and communicate effectively.

As the children approach the teen years, they participate in the Community Parent Center's Getting Ready for Middle School program. This addresses the academic, social and emotional changes faced by adolescents with a view toward enabling them to become more confident, resilient and independent. It also reinforces the skills they need to avoid drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and violence. Also, sixth-graders are invited to join SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), an after school club in which positive peer pressure is put to use in combination with information to encourage students to make healthy decisions and remain alcohol, tobacco and drug free.

Bellmore district programs are similar in nature. At Shore Road School, which houses students in grades 5 and 6, the Be a Friend/Make a Friend program, led by a school psychologist, encourages children to share issues that are bothering them. Second Step is a structured program that helps students identify, express and share feelings and deal with conflict resolution. Shore Road, as well as the other two schools in the district, Winthrop Avenue and Reinhard Early Childhood Center, have a health and safety committee for discussing children's needs.

"Each classroom is a small family, and the needs of the group are handled in a loving and caring manner by the teacher," Sass added. "We had a classroom recently where the issue of depression and suicide was brought up, and the teacher spent time helping them understand the issues." The same is true of a recent classroom in the North Bellmore district, in which the recent teen suicides were discussed.