After recent student deaths, Beaver County charter school renews mental health awareness efforts

BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. — Earlier this spring, several students at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School (LPPACC) reached out to Channel 11 about what they described as a suicide crisis: four student deaths in two school years. An online petition called for changes at the school, specifically, how the administration addresses bullying and mental health issues within the student body.

In the Fall of 2022, Joe Aloi was studying media at Lincoln Park. His older sister, Julia, said he was looking at colleges, planning to double major in film and computer science.

“Just like imagining what he would have done at college, where he would have gone, what life would have been like for him…it can be really hard to think about,” Julia said.

She told Channel 11 Joe died by suicide that November, months before he was set to graduate from high school.

“It was really, obviously, traumatic to lose him,” Julia said. “I just felt very disappointed with the resources for bullying and suicide awareness.”

Earlier this year, Julia created an online petiton through Change.org. She said she wrote it after another student suicide at Lincoln Park, saying “I am begging for a structural change in how the school operates…the amount of suicides within the past two years is truly horrific.” The petition garnered more than 4,000 signatures and led to several open forums; first, at school for students, followed by a panel discussion for Lincoln Park parents, providing resources and services for student mental health.

UPMC was not a part of this forum, but we asked child psychologist Dr. Abigail Schlesinger how parents should have these tough conversations with their kids.

“It’s always important to ask your kid, ‘What’s going on at school?’ I think it’s okay to ask outright, ‘How are you getting along with your friends and peers? Who are your friends and peers?’”

Ask your kids if they’ve noticed any bullying going on at school. If they say yes, ask then what they do when they see it. Schlesinger said certain changes in behaviors may indicate there’s a problem.

“…Not wanting to go to school, looking more dysphoric, looking more irritable, looking more angry…” Schlesinger said.

“If they’re being bullied and that, in turn, makes them anxious to go to school or depressed…just to be really hyper-aware of what happens at school,” Julia said.

Lincoln Park school administrators declined Channel 11′s request for an interview. Instead, a series of statements were provided, including the following from CEO Patrick Poling:

“There has been a false narrative about there being a pervasive bullying problem at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School and a perceived lack of action by our staff.

“We have strong anti-bullying and harassment policies in place and enforce them when any situation arises…What we are finding is there is sometimes a misunderstanding about what is bullying vs. what is a peer conflict.

“We will continue to work closely with mental health professionals to help our students and staff.”

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