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Taravella Student Blake McCullers Is Mourned by Friends

Date posted: May 10, 2012

Blake McCullers – Photo Contributed by Louise Batista his Cheerleading Coach

By: Sharon Aron Baron

Update:  

Blake’s older sister Amber said this yesterday about her brother:

Blake was my little brother, and he wasn’t being bullied, nor was he gay. None of the people that saw him every day ever saw him bullied. He was picked on, like everyone in high school was picked on, but he wasn’t tormented or harassed, and it didn’t cause this. We may never know why Blake did what he did, but please stop spreading this rumor that he was bullied. I don’t want my baby brother remembered as a victim.
Friends are shocked and saddened by the recent news that Blake McCullers, 15, died as the result of suicide early Wednesday morning in Coral Springs.

Blake was only a sophomore at JP Taravella High School and was on the competitive cheerleading team.

Sadly, I suggested to JP Taravella Principal Shawn Cerra just months before Blake’s suicide, that Ana Fernandez, head of the Bradford Foundation come out and speak to the students at his school about teen suicide.   Sitting with Principal Cerra at an I-Zone meeting on January 24th, I told him I had just attended the one year Memorial Service for suicide victim Bradford Fernandez just  four days prior and thought it would be beneficial for his students to listen to her suicide prevention speech.

Principal Cerra seemed very interested and told me he would contact me or her.

I never heard back.

While we may never know if a suicide speech may have saved Blake’s life, we must do much more to be proactive in the future and not wait for our children to die before stepping up to talk to our students about teen suicide.

Louise Batista,  JV and Competitive Cheerleading Coach at Taravella said, “Blake never exhibited any indication that he would commit suicide.”

Batista who has coached students for over 25 years knew Blake since the beginning of the school year and saw absolutely no signs that Blake would have taken his own life.

I wouldn’t have called this in a million years.  There wasn’t one day where he was in a bad mood” –  Louise Batista – Blake’s Cheerleading Coach

Batista said that Blake was always in a good mood, was a quick learner and would always help her with her equipment.  His older brother was also a cheerleader and his mom was at every fundraiser.

“He was smart and very involved with Decca. They even won states,” said Batista.

She said that Blake was a gentleman to others and that he opened doors for women and would bring cakes for girls on their birthdays.

Last weekend may have been Blake’s tipping point, although it’s only speculation through several close friends of his:  Blake was out with friends at Coral Square Mall and he was caught shop-lifting. We don’t know if this had anything to do with his suicide.  In fact, at this point no on knows exactly why Blake committed suicide as there was no note.

Many people are saddened by his loss and students all over the country are tweeting comments using the hashtag #RIPBLAKE to share their feelings.

Hopefully, soon there will be answers to why we lost a promising young man.

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  • TEACHER

    You should be ashamed for writing the following,

    “I suggested to JP Taravella Principal Shawn Cerra just months before Blake’s suicide, that Ana Fernandez, head of the Bradford Foundation come out and speak to the students at his school about teen suicide…Principal Cerra seemed very interested and told me he would contact me or her.

    I never heard back.

    While we may never know if a suicide speech may have saved Blake’s life, we must do much more to be proactive in the future and not wait for our children to die before stepping up to talk to our students about teen suicide.”

    How dare you make this kind of comment. You are basically implying that the school is somewhat to blame for this child’s suicide and that had they listened to the ALL KNOWING WRITER OF SOME SMALL AND INSIGNIFICANT COMMUNITY PAPER, he would still be alive. The schools are CONSTANTLY inviting guest speakers to discuss VARIOUS social issues with students and spending money on programs to teach our kids. Any person who writes such RIDICULOUS statements dramatically diminishes their credibility with the community as a writer.

    SHAME ON YOU.

    • Amber McCullers

      Thank you for saying what I could not.

  • http://www.tamaractalk.com Editor

    Dear “Teacher”

    As you see, I never implied anyone had anything to do with Blake’s demise. Only Blake can answer that. But tell me, what did Taravella have in place educating students regarding suicide prevention before Blake died?

    Unfortunately, schools like this become reactive and not proactive to tragedies. We need to reverse this trend and start thinking about our students.

    Editor

    • Amber McCullers

      I went to the school before Blake did. I was a senior his freshman year. The teachers there are very caring, and many develop personal relationships with the students to the point where we can come to them if we need help with anything like this. There were counselors available for anyone that needed help, and they were spoken of often. I partook in those counseling services myself when I attended the school, so Blake definitely knew about them. Not to mention the fact that he has 4 incredibly loving siblings, one of whom was on the cheerleading squad with him and saw him at school every day, and two loving parents that have always had a policy of honesty and respect with their kids. Blake simply did not want help. He was surrounded by it, and did not seek it. Mr.Cerra could have personally walked into Blake’s first hour class every single morning and said “You are important. Please tell someone today if you are hurting.” and it would not have helped. There was something wrong with Blake that we will never understand, and it was not anyone’s fault. No one could have seen it or stopped it.

  • http://tamaractalk.com/taravella-student-blake-mccullers-is-mourned-by-friends-6130 Karen Fernandez

    This story just breaks my heart. My daughter told me about this today and I feel so badly for his parents. Im glad his sister reached out and said something and said she didn’t want him remembered as victem. He sounded like a strong individual and a smart kid that just got into a little bit of trouble at the end!

    We really need to educate and talk to our children and always let them know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!!! Dark days for us look even darker and more hopeless for a teen. We must not let this happen to any more of our wonderful children. I just can’t imagine what his family is feeling now. My prayers are going out to them.

  • Ashlie

    I was one of the many who was very close to Blake. He was an AMAZING person inside and out he had the best smile on his face and he never wasn’t smiling.He was the definition of a true friend. But we were educated about suicide and about our feelings. We had people who we could trust to talk to. Or School J.P. Taravella has the best counselors and they were always there for us. But maybe Blake thought that he had nobody to go to, which is so sad to think because he had so many people to go to that truly loved him. Its not Mr. Cerras fault that blake is not with us today. The people at my school help us and put us first. But its sad that blake didnt see that. But its okay my best friend is in a better place now. :)

  • Brenda

    @Teacher – I read this article several times and never saw blame assigned. Schools have the perfect arena to bring in speakers that address problems facing our teens. Pro-active principals do just that. It is difficult since so many days are spend preparing or taking state mandated tests. Teachers and staff members must be educated as well. Will this education save all kids? No, but if it saves just one it is worth a few hours of assemblies. But these assemblies MUST be serious with all staff members – teachers, secretaries, cafeteria workers, administrators, guidance – All staff members must be in attendance. Students will see that this is a serious topic. It must be soon and it must be frequent. Not just at Taravella but at all schools in the County.

    • Amber McCullers

      When I spoke to Mr.Cerra after the fact, it was mentioned that higer-ups than him feared that an anti-suicide education program might actually inspire thoughts of suicide in kids that it had not yet occurred to.

  • TEACHER

    You label approaches to education regarding social issues as proactive vs. reactive but it is both. Educating our students is sometimes based on a reaction to their behavior and needs as well as preventing issues that we already know about. Some of the issues that students face today were not even possible years ago. Who knew that we would have to start teaching about sexting and cyber-bullying…we found out because it happened. It’s unfortunate but this is how we keep up with the new generations. We learn, pay attention and do the best we can to prevent. Sometimes students’ act out of character and we are all shocked at their behavior. I can’t imagine how the educators at JP Taravella must feel to lose this student.

    
These allegations that schools are not proactive are indicative of a person who has no experience working in the school system. If you go to each school and speak with teachers, students and administrators, you will find that educators work very hard to teach students about the various social issues plaguing children today. Lessons include, anti-bullying, cyber-bullying, violence, conflict mediation, underage drinking, drinking and driving, drug awareness, sexually transmitted diseases, sexting, abuse, and the list goes on. It is unrealistic to think that we are able to touch on every single topic as well as keep up with curriculum, testing, and all the other requirements that school must meet. As the year progresses, teachers and administrators find that when they keep their attention to what is going on with students, they can take advantage of “teachable moments” to prevent issues from escalating. It’s interesting because to be proactive, we would sometimes have to suspend curriculum and then we have parents outraged that we are depriving their child of academics to talk to them about things “their child would never ever do”… Unfortunate but true.

    While I was teaching, there were students who would crush up the candy SMARTIES and snort them. What is our proactive approach there? There is none but you better believe someone was pointing fingers to place blame on who didn’t prevent this from happening. Hind sight is 20/20 – isn’t that how the saying goes?

    How about the students who started bringing alcohol from home, spiking a drink they bought at school and getting drunk? Who is to blame there? Should educators sniff every kids’ drink before entering classrooms? All we can do is continue to teach about underage drinking, refrain from allowing them to have open drinks in our classrooms as a preventative measure and hope that we don’t get an angry phone call from a parent saying, “My child is thirsty! He shouldn’t be punished for the actions of others.”

    I maintain my opinion regarding your statements about Mr. Cerra and the school. Those kind of comments are accusatory and opinionated. They have no place in an article that should essentially report the facts associated with the death of this child. This is a basic rule of responsible reporting aside from getting your facts straight. This response by no means needs a reply as I will not be posting again. This response is not meant to start a war but rather to extend my perspective as an educator so you as well as others would be better informed before making allegations. I only hope that this perspective would impel you to go into the schools and talk to educators so you can truly see that the majority of teachers and administrators are trying every single day to teach our children to make better life decisions.

    • TEACHER

      **Correction: The area that discussed the school situation where students were “snorting” SMARTIES – didn’t occur in the classroom. It was during my time at a particular school [hence the phrase "while I was teaching..." which sounded misleading] that students were engaging in this activity at home and possibly on campus and the rumors got to our administration. Please note: This did not occur in the classroom but it was very disconcerting to find out that kids were participating in this activity.

      Please accept this correction as the original word choice reflected a different meaning. Thank you.

    • http://www.inmemoryofbradford.org,www.thebradfordfoundation.org Ana Fernandez

      Regarding your statement “Educating our students is sometimes based on reaction to their behavior and needs as well as preventing issues that we already know about ….sexting & cyber-bullying…we found out because it happened.” This is an unacceptable statement, and one that needs to be eradicated completely.

      Teen suicides are not new. There is an increasing trend in the last several years of teen suicides. In fact, as of 2009, suicide between the ages of 15-24 ranks as the 3rd largest cause. Same statistics were in place for 2008. This is NOT new, and it hasn’t changed for several years already. So your point here really doesn’t apply. Schools KNOW that increasing trends in school place violence, self harm, and suicides; it is a growing problem. There is no room, when it comes to education, prevention and intervention, for error. We cannot tolerate, allow it, or accept it any longer. Whatever is being done, based on results, is NOT effective. It needs to change; schools need to do more, educate more, and go out of the box. Transformation does not tolerate mediocrity.

      Parents are not the frontline of defense anymore. Think about it, as an educator, children spend on average at least 7-8 hours a day in school; afterwards they hang out with their friends. Most parents do not get home from work until after 5. This means teens are out and about from 7:30 usually to 5, in school, with friends, doing whatever. We hammer our kids in school about FCAT, benchmark testing, SAT’s, and overload on curriculums yet we do not teach them about Suicide hotlines, where to get help, who can they call if depressed, or in fact any education about depression, its causes, developing coping mechanisms, and what to do and where to call if your friend needs help. When my son died, he texted TWO of his friends as early as six (6) hours that he was going to kill himself. No one called us, no one called the police. I saw pictures of him in class, after his death, from his friends that his hair completely covered his eyes. I question how any teacher can not think it was abnormal for a teenager to completely cover his eyes during class. Teachers are overwhelmed with teaching. Faculty training for detecting at risk behaviors and maladaptive behaviors needs to be more complete.

      Suicide has become a viral, growing infection, a means to an end of pain in the minds of our children. It needs a holistic approach – i.e. aggressive INTERVENTION, continually, from everyone in the community, and that includes school faculty.

      If the intervention programs that we currently have are working, then we wouldn’t have the statistics we have today. Eight (8) suicides in Broward County in 2011. My son Bradford was the 1st. EIGHT.
      Regarding your statement 
”These allegations that schools are not proactive are indicative of a person who has no experience working in the school system” unrealistic and out of line. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we have a serious problem in our schools in Broward County when it comes to school place violence, the ‘Emo’ groups, and suicide, again – look at the statistics. There is something seriously wrong with our system when there were eight suicides between the ages of 14-19 in Broward County last year. In 2010, there were six (6) suicides and in 2009 there were another six (6). This means 20 youth died by suicide in 3 years; 20 families devastated, 20 communities affected, 20 schools affected. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives hurt, devastated, affected, never the same. These are horrifying statistics.

      Lastly, Ms. Teacher, please note that Broward County School Board now has two (2) lawsuits that I’m aware of as a result of bullying and attempted suicide. Here is the link the latest one http://www.sunshineslate.com/2012/04/10/broward-county-school-board-sued-bullying/ (12 year old girl was attacked by bullies during class in school, suffered brain damage and is suicidal), and the 2nd one that occurred last year http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/24/broward-county-school-dis_n_1112232.html, from a mother in Coral Springs whose daughter attempted suicide because of bullying.

      Bottom line, everyone in the school community has the responsibility and accountability to keep the children safe, and part of that safety includes aggressive suicide prevention and intervention. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it?” Well, the safeguards and protocols are broken in schools, and they need to be fixed, in some way, shape or form, with every single member of the school, from the janitor, to teachers, to administrators, counselors, and the students. We need to do more. Every school has the responsibility to follow-up continually by reaching out for help, seeking new programs, being open to alternatives and getting “aggressively proactive” when it pertains to suicide prevention and school place violence. Why? Look at the statistics.

      I’m grateful and thankful that TamaracTalks wrote this article. Media, such as this one, is what will help create the awareness that is needed to touch and save each child. Here’s a realistic goal for you: no child left behind, no child dies by suicide, and every single child in our community gets to live and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment. That is our vision.

      Best regards,
      Ana Fernandez
      In memory of Bradford
      http://www.inmemoryofbradford.org

  • http://www.inmemoryofbradford.org,www.thebradfordfoundation.org Ana Fernandez

    Thank you for your compassionate article. You’ve done a great job.

    How very sad that our schools are not focusing, as they should, on suicide prevention and intervention, yet focus on the aftermath.

    Suicide awareness must become a priority, and you illustrate this very well. We cannot continue to lose our precious youth. We cannot be reactive, but must be proactive in our approach.

    If you speak with the McCullers family, please let them know that they are in my prayers, and that my family and our foundation is here in any way we can to support them through these difficult, and painful, times.

    • TEACHER

      Ms. Fernandez,

      Although I had no intention of replying to any posts because I said what I had to say and this could go back and forth forever, I need to respond to yours…

      You need to read my response again. You have obviously not read it carefully.

      I never said that suicide was new. That’s ridiculous. I was directly responding to the writer’s allegation that schools are not proactive but rathe, reactive and that its a matter of one versus the other. My response is a very clear explanation that all educating is both proactive and reactive because of the plethora of old AND new issues in the schools. That was clearly stated in the following quote. “Educating our students is sometimes based on a reaction to their behavior and needs as well as preventing issues that we already know about.”

      In addition to that, I also expressed the concern that people think we do not educate our students about social issues and that is a major misconception. It is just unfortunate, that we can’t hit every social issue, every single day – I certainly wish we could. I also feel that when something like this occurs, people are looking for someone to blame. It’s typical in these situations. If the school had called for a guest speaker regarding teen suicide and focused on that issue, and a child died a few months later because of a drug overdose, the parent would blame the school for his death claiming they should have known, they should have addressed this issue, etc.

      It’s also unfortunate that most people will never know the amount of kids who make better life decisions BECAUSE of an educator’s guidance. It’s just easier to place blame when things go wrong.

      As for your claim for the need of programs… here you go. I addressed this already. “If you go to each school and speak with teachers, students and administrators, you will find that educators work very hard to teach students about the various social issues plaguing children today. Lessons include, anti-bullying, cyber-bullying, violence, conflict mediation, underage drinking, drinking and driving, drug awareness, sexually transmitted diseases, sexting, abuse, and the list goes on. It is unrealistic to think that we are able to touch on every single topic as well as keep up with curriculum, testing, and all the other requirements that school must meet. As the year progresses, teachers and administrators find that when they keep their attention to what is going on with students, they can take advantage of “teachable moments” to prevent issues from escalating. It’s interesting because to be proactive, we would sometimes have to suspend curriculum and then we have parents outraged that we are depriving their child of academics to talk to them about things “their child would never ever do”… Unfortunate but true.”

      You are especially passionate about teen suicide because it touched you so closely, however, while you are advocating for every school to address this issue, there is another passionate parent shouting to be heard about bullying, another about drugs, another about underage drinking, another about cutting… I WISH WE COULD ADDRESS THEM ALL and we try, while also attempting to meet every other requirement.

      All these concerns about teaching awareness and your point regarding training faculty to look for behaviors are valid but it should include all social issues. You make a lot of demands on what needs to be done but no suggestion for how to PRAGMATICALLY make changes and the reason why is because it is no easy task. There absolutely needs to be a balance of education that not only includes academics but also awareness of all issues that plague our kids today. If you want to change things, you have to go “straight to the top” because resources, time and money are required and that doesn’t originate at the school level. Meanwhile, as we wait for things to change, educators do their very best to address these issues as well as teach academics.

      This article WAS a great idea – minus the personal attack on Mr. Cerra.

  • http://www.inmemoryofbradford.org,www.thebradfordfoundation.org Ana Fernandez

    Hello Ms. Teacher,

    I, too, did not intend to go back and forth on this issue. However, like you, figured I can take a few minutes of my time and answer your post.

    Yes, I do make a lot of demands of schools. I have 2 surviving children in high school, along with many close friends.

    You say I “make no suggestions.” This simply is NOT true. I would have made suggestions to Principal Cerra if he would have contacted me. Yet, for whatever reasons, he didn’t. I had NO opportunity, in this case, to make any suggestion. Maybe it would have made a difference with Blake, maybe not. Unfortunately and sadly, we will never know.

    The Bradford Foundation, and several other Suicide Prevention organizations, struggle with getting in front of school administrators to discuss programs. Programs which sometimes are free, or may have a minimal cost. Expenses that can be met, for the most part, through community involvement. Organizations like ours face obstacles, red tape, and ‘politics’ in reaching schools. How sad is that? That is, of course, until another tragedy occurs. Then schools immediately look for resources, bring in counselors, and work with the students for the aftermath of the devastation. Westpine Middle School did the same when Bradford died – REACTED. I’ll never forget Mrs. Meadows statement to me “Oh, yeah, well we’ve done ALOT after Bradford’s death.” Although I am grateful for her support, I will never forget her words and thinking “how very nice – it took my son’s death for ‘doing a lot’.” I call that “reactive.”

    Here’s PRO-ACTIVE:
    The Bradford Foundation has a partner relationship with a re-known psychologist who has a powerful educational Suicide Intervention and Prevention program for schools, including faculty, parents & students. There are other organizations that offer awareness programs as well.

    QPR a nationally recognized suicide prevention resource is also available for schools. I’m actually in the process of participating in one of their training.

    The Yellow Ribbon program, which I am under the impression is what Teravella is now promoting with students, has been around for years. That organization was started by parents who lost their son to suicide. I’ve been in contact with them and passed out their Yellow Ribbon Cards during Bradford’s memorial.

    There are other free, no cost, Teen suicide prevention educational programs. I would have gladly discussed these with Principal Cerra, as I have done with others, if given the opportunity. However, we were never contacted so my “suggestions” never made it to Taravella.

    Teachers are overwhelmed, counselors are struggling, and school budgets are cut. School administrators must look outside the box and SEEK resources that are, and have been, readily available. Bullying, drugs, and all the ‘social issues’ you mentioned are part of the problem that can lead to suicide.

    I only hope, wish and pray that our schools and communities WAKE UP quickly, so that no other family goes through what the McCullers, myself, and hundreds of others across our country are going through every day.

    One last point – I am passionate about this cause. Unfortunately, my passion in creating awareness, education, intervention and prevention WON’T bring my son back. Let’s be clear about that. This is not about my son. It won’t bring precious Blake back, or the other 20 young souls, ages 10-19, who have died by suicide in the last 3 years in Broward county.

    But – it will save others and that I am very passionate about. One child lost to suicide, if it’s only 1 a year, is one child too many. We simply cannot be mediocre when it comes to eradicating suicide.

    You are more than welcomed to visit our websites, or contact me through ana@inmemoryofbradford.org to continue our chat or connect.

    Best regards,
    Ana Fernandez, CEO
    The Bradford Foundation