KCETLink Youth Voices is working with students from Arroyo High School to explore El Monte/South El Monte and the surrounding communities. The students have formed teams to explore and investigate their communities, map assets, collect and share stories, data and community input for their projects. All the while they are learning and expanding their knowledge of digital media and civic engagement. Follow Love is Respect El Monte on Twitter @loveisrespectem or the social media hashtags #LoveIsRespectEM and #KCETYV.
Love is Respect El Monte is working to inform students, teachers, and adults on the effects of teen dating abuse through creative outreach campaigns. To help us with our cause, we reached out to Timothy Castañeda, the resident mental health professional at Arroyo High School.
You've probably walked by Mr. Castañeda's office and didn't know that he's our school Psychologist. During our interview we found that he's passionate about his job at Arroyo High School and an enthusiastic football coach for a neighboring district.
From the start he wanted it to be known that, "Anyone can access me and there are no limits to who can access the mental health services. I have an open door policy, and if my door's not open just pound on it. Anybody can talk to me, and people do come to my office. They don't need their parents permission to seek me out, but they will need their parents' consent for something that is structured and formal, such as counseling over a period of time."
Students feel that Mr. Castañeda is a great asset to the school. According to Justine Martinez, sophomore, "a school psychologist would be beneficial to have on campus because it can give students the opportunity to talk about problems that may be beyond the service of regular educational counselors, or that students just don't feel that they have friends or family to talk to about these types of things."
In a lot of cultures access to counseling and mental health services is considered taboo and unorthodox because most of us grew up hearing that if you had to see a psychologist, there is something seriously wrong with you. However, Mr. Castañeda shared with us that "Anybody who is having any kind of emotional challenges or any challenge in general, is not only more than welcomed, they are encouraged to speak to their counselor or to me."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2009 report from the division of Violence Prevention, among high school students in the United States, females were more likely to report having considered, planned, and attempted suicide, compared to males -- considered suicide: 17.4% versus 10.5%; planned suicide: 13.2% versus 8.6%; and attempted suicide: 8.1% versus 4.6%, respectively. The report surveyed thousands of high school students across the U.S.
Regarding the topic of teen dating abuse, Mr. Castañeda stated, "A student may not specifically come to me about teen dating violence but what has happened twice this year is students have come to me for other reasons and in the course of speaking with them they revealed they have been coerced into some type of activity they don't want to be involved with. It may not be overt or may not be something they are distressed about, but they drop little hints. I feel that an awareness campaign like the one Love is Respect El Monte is involved in is very important specifically because these two young girls that I talk to discussed the abuse as a 'matter of fact'. They didn't really want this, but it is something that just happened. It's almost insidious because they didn't recognize it as a problem even though it was clearly causing them distress and discomfort."
When asked for a definition of teen dating abuse from his perspective, Mr. Castañeda said, "I would say dating abuse is not limited to the sexual realm. Yes, it includes actions such as date rape and abuse, but I think it can be defined more broadly. I think coercion, manipulation, or threatening of any kind is considered dating abuse." He described people who seek these services as people who stand out by having the most severe problems. However, he said, "The laughing kid who walks down the hall and has a bunch of friends could also be going through something, but a teacher might not look at him/her and say he/she has an issue because they do not show the 'typical' signs." All students are able to access the counseling services at Arroyo High School.
Mr. Castañeda did admit, "From the school specifically, we do not have a very robust collection of resources to deal with teen dating abuse, but it is something we can work on. At the same time, all the counselors are very knowledgeable and very proactive to be helpful. They are all very concerned about their students. We do have a school resource officer (SRO) who is on campus. He is a police officer who works in schools. Those are the guys you call when there are serious problems. He also is the gateway from the students from the high school to programs that are run by the El Monte police department. The people who are the most valuable resources are the teachers because they are around the students everyday and can witness changes in a student's behavior. Outside of the school environment we also have partnerships with other agencies who accept students with Medical and will provide counseling and mental health services. Pacific Clinics and Foothill Family Services are a few organizations who work with us closely."
If a student is interested in seeking out Mr. Castañeda's guidance, they can be assured to know he has a confidentiality policy. However, he did explain, "Whatever is said to me is strictly confidential except for a few circumstances. For example, if they tell me they are going to hurt themselves or others or even if they know about a similar situation I am legally bound to alert law enforcement or another administration."
Mr. Castañeda offered some advice to those victim to harmful actions. "There are always choices you can make to improve your situation. One of the first choices you can make is to reach out to someone else. If you can get past that first hurdle, that's the first step. Don't be content with where you are, if you feel like something can be improved then go out and do it."
If you're interested in talking to Mr. Castañeda you can see him during school hours at his office -- located in the business technology department in between the boys and girls restrooms.