The story behind the headlines

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BURLINGTON, Vermont (WCAX) – So far this school year, 62 school threats have been reported to Vermont State Police. While many situations are settled behind closed doors, others unfold in the public spotlight and on the evening news. Beyond the headlines and police lights, journalist Christina Guessferd encountered a student who sent her school into multiple closures, forcing the family to face judgment and the community to wonder how to provide support.

Meet Henry McBroom. The 6th grader didn’t spend much time in school, so he found solace in the skate parks, still focusing on the next trick. It’s a place where his mother, Katherine Taylor-McBroom, says they both get away from the worries of the outside world. “He feels alienated, and of course that’s where he doesn’t feel alienated,” Taylor-McBroom said.

At the park, Henry is a cool, funny and charismatic boy. At home, the family stores the thick pile of Henry’s disciplinary records, school suspensions and mental health investigations dating back to first grade. “He had to evacuate the school, the classrooms and the gymnasiums,” Taylor-McBroom said. “We went to work every day, not knowing when we were going to be called and what was going to happen. So that stress was there every day…it feels like your child is drowning and there’s no way to help him.

Over the years, Henry has caused several disturbances at Edmunds School in Burlington, from throwing meal trays to jumping in stairwells to threatening to bring a gun to class. “You get the ‘this happened at school’ email and you know it’s your child,” Taylor-McBroom said. “I don’t want to minimize the experiences of other kids when things like this happen…there’s another side to it that’s not comfortable.”

It was following an insider threat, once the police cars cleared the scene and the children were back in the classrooms, that the team of people responding to the call for help this student gets to work.

“All children want to succeed, and I think all children would adopt positive behaviors if they felt they had the skills to do so. When students take action, when they make threats, there is usually underlying causes or reasons for this,” said Dylan McNamara, Essex Westford School District Social/Emotional Learning Director. “We are bringing together a group of adults who have both health expertise mental health and a familiarity with the student…We want to see if a student has access to weapons, if they have underlying mental health issues, if they have a history of using violence to resolve problems, or if they believe that violence is the way to solve problems. We want to look at the level of supervision they have outside of school. »

Collecting this information helps the district determine the credibility of the threat. But McNamara says more importantly, what level of support the district should provide the student. He says the team immediately designs a short-term security plan, including parents locking guns at home and counselors performing daily bag checks. Then it’s the school mental health clinicians who hold the hands of that student and their family for the long term.

“We try to really open up a reflection with the student and to understand the intention of the action. We truly believe that all behavior is communication. So what was the behavior trying to communicate? Does this student feel disconnected, marginalized in some way, angry, embarrassed? said Alice Scannell, clinical supervisor of school services at the Howard Center.

The center has clinicians embedded in all but one Chittenden County school. Scannell oversees several in the South Burlington and Mount Mansfield Unified School Districts. In a crisis, she says, these case managers could work with the 24/7 helpline — First Call — to stabilize a dysregulated student, administer a mental health assessment, refer to an outpatient provider or even recommend a residential facility. In the weeks and months that follow, clinicians serve as a liaison between administrators and family, strategizing to achieve treatment goals, reporting student progress, and strengthening bonds with loved ones they may have. put to the test.

“As students go through this, I think an unseen element of it is the emotional toll that occurs for the parents of students who engage in this behavior. They go through a level of shock, sometimes denial, anger, grief, confusion, and it’s really isolating for these parents,” Scannell said.

Emotions of shame and guilt over which Taylor-McBroom shed many tears. The family has used all of these resources and is confident that most of them have been effective. But Henry’s process has been slow, in part because of the pandemic and Vermont’s shortage of psychiatrists. Ultimately, she says she hopes sharing their story will discourage the community from demonizing troubled children and judging the struggling parent. “We give him a lot of love. We fight for him for everything — For his IEP, for his behavioral interventionist, for his Howard Center resources,” Taylor-McBroom said.

After several misdiagnoses, Henry only recently learned that he was living with bipolar disorder.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: How do you think people see you?

Henry McBroom: They consider me a bad person. They may consider me an evil person.

Journalist Christina Guessferd: But you know that’s not true. What would you like people to know about you who may not know you very well?

Henry McBroom: I would like them to know that I’ve changed and I’m calmer now and I can be cool and if you just give me a chance I can be a good person.

Now on various medications, Taylor-McBroom says he is doing well and is grateful to everyone who supported them in Green Mountain State.

Since we first visited the McBrooms, they have become closer to their family in Tennessee.

Reporter Christina Guessferd: How does it feel to know you’re about to make a fresh start?

Henry McBroom: I feel on top of the world. I feel amazing… Everyone will see a new me.

Related stories:

Police respond to threats at Mt. Abraham Union HS

Authorities try to reassure parents after second violent incident at Bristol schools

Violence and fear at Vermont elementary school as children in crisis disrupt classes

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