PENDLETON - Despite a late start last year, the Pendleton School District's Teen Screen program surpassed its goal of screening at least 150 sixth graders for signs of depression, suicide or mental disorders. It screened 250 students in just four months.

The Columbia Teen Screen program uses a computer questionnaire in which students disclose information through questions about their lives, their fears or insecurities, alcohol or drug abuse and their emotional well-being.

Based on the students' confidential answers, Teen Screen staff can determine if the student needs some sort of intervention, such as counseling or treatment. Last year, roughly 33 percent of the sixth-grade students needed some form of intervention, primarily counseling.

Intervention was generally based on "a lot of anxiety and depression," said Diane Cort-Wagner, director of the program, which runs through the school-based health centers at Sunridge Middle School and Pendleton High School. Suicidal thoughts also were a concern.

The 2003-2004 school year was the inaugural year for the Pendleton program.

The Teen Screen program not only identifies students in need of intervention, it also tracks them. Students identified from last year's batch of sixth graders will be tracked on their progress this year.

"The program is a bridge for the school community to the parents," said Pendleton Superintendent Jim Keene. "We're really pleased with the program's first year."

The program is heavily supported by the Cormel Hill Center out of Columbia University in New York, which supplies the Teen Screen program with education, staff training, screening tools, technical support and consultation.

The program is also supported by St. Anthony Hospital and U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith of Pendleton and his wife, Sharon. The Smith's lost their son, Garrett, to suicide last fall after he battled with depression.

Cort-Wagner noted that Sharon Smith now serves on the Teen Screen Board at Columbia University, and she praised the hospital for its involvement.

"St. Anthony is proud of its commitment to the program," said Jeffrey Drop, president and CEO of St. Anthony Hospital. "Teen Screen really fills a need in what studies show is a vulnerable age group. Diane and her crew have worked hard this year helping children go through the screening and identification process. It's been a great success thus far."

It cost about $200,000 to operate Pendleton Teen Screen in its maiden year. That covered salaries and stipends, training and software for the screening, as well as counseling for those students needing intervention. It won't cost nearly as much for the 2004-2005 school year now that the software has been installed and training has been completed, Cort-Wagner said.

Pendleton's ability to run the screening program through its school health centers was such a success that it will be a model for other districts in the nation getting involved in the Teen Screen program, Cort-Wagner said.

"That system really established a trust with the parents and students," said Robert Caruano, deputy director for the Cormel Hill Center. "They had an over 90 percent consent rate from parents."

Parents had to consent to the screening before students were given the questionnaire.

While last year's target group was sixth graders, this year's will be either seventh or eighth graders, Cort-Wagner said. She noted that screening is set to begin in September, after Round-Up.

Pendleton's Teen Screen staff consists of Cort-Wagner, two graduate students from Walla Walla College, Cassie Miller from Umatilla County Mental Health, secretary Jan Cook and registered nurse Cindy Shaw.

"The Teen Screen is so important because of the turbulence of society," Cort-Wagner said.

For more information about the Columbia Teen Screen, log onto www.teenscreen.org.

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