By Jim Walsh GSN Staff Writer

In the aftermath of defeat, state Sen. Sean Bowie found consolation in the strength of a grassroots effort in the East Valley to train teachers on how to recognize the early warning signs of teen suicide.

The legislature in April defeated the Ahwatukee Democrat’s bill to require suicide prevention training statewide.

He hoped local school districts would do it themselves without a mandate.

That’s exactly what happened in Bowie’s own district, with the Tempe Unified High School District becoming the first district in the state to train all employees, not only teachers, in recognizing the warning signs.

The Tempe Union effort wasn’t an easy accomplishment.

Nikki Kontz, clinical director of Teen Lifeline, a suicide prevention organization, teamed with a group of other mental health providers to train 805 district employees a two-hour session.

“They are the first district to do this district-wide,’’ Kontz said. “This is Suicide Prevention Month. What bigger message can you send than to give suicide prevention training district wide?’’

She said Teen Lifeline, which works to prevent teen suicide statewide, hopes Tempe Union becomes an example for other districts to emulate.

“Everyone is important. It doesn’t matter what role you have,’’ Kontz said, noting that.’

She said a cafeteria worker or a school bus driver might overhear students talking about a fellow student in a mental health crisis, or a janitor might find a discarded piece of paper indicating a student was planning suicide.

Teen Lifeline operates a hotline, using fellow teens to counsel their peers. Jennifer Liewer, a Tempe Union spokeswoman, said the focus is on helping today’s students.

Teachers “see students struggling and they want to help them,’’ Liewer said. “They are the ones who see them in the classroom day in and day out. We knew it was a problem. It’s about getting the tools in their hands.’’

“They see them every day and it’s intimidating if you don’t know what to say and what to look for,’’ Liewer said.