Meet the 13 winners of the 2016 Bethesda Magazine Extraordinary Teen Awards
Senior, Walter Johnson High School
Suicide is not an easy topic to discuss. But Jeffrey Cirillo believes high schools should do more to make teenagers aware of mental health issues and create a supportive culture so students know where to go for help. After a fellow Walter Johnson High School (WJ) student committed suicide on New Year’s Day last year, Jeffrey organized the Reaching Out Campaign and the Reaching Out Club at the school to take on the issue and link students with helpful resources.
“I felt that someone needed to do something,” says the 17-year-old senior from North Bethesda, who looked at the gap between what research says about the need for enough school psychologists, education on mental illness and school suicide-prevention policies, and what was actually being done.
Within WJ, Jeffrey and other club members met with Principal Jennifer Baker and pushed successfully for a formal plan that includes procedures for handling at-risk students and the appointment of a suicide- prevention coordinator. They also filled the hallways with posters featuring a local help line for students in crisis.
To advocate for broader change, Jeffrey presented to the Montgomery County Board of Education, urging it to make the health curriculum on depression and anxiety more relevant to students. He also lobbied the board for additional school psychologists and cohesive school policies to prevent suicide. “[Jeffrey] is the epitome of a leader,” says Nicole McCarn, a psychology teacher of Jeffrey’s and the Reaching Out Club sponsor. “He really wants to create real change.”
Jeffrey says he will always care about suicide prevention and will likely be an advocate in college. “It’s not something I chose. But a lot can change in a single powerful experience,” he says. “Now it’s a part of who I am and what I do.”
With a 4.0 GPA, Jeffrey is an accomplished member of the debate team and plans to study political science or international relations in college.