Linda Russell's Leadership and Legacy for UCDRC

Linda Russell, former Director of the Urban Child Development Resource Center (UCDRC), has been an integral part of the program since its inception in 2002 as part of the Center for Catholic Education at the University of Dayton. The primary goal of UCDRC is to provide a healthy learning environment in each classroom so that children are unencumbered by the stresses of everyday life and are able to focus and learn. As a founding force, Linda’s first role was to serve Dayton urban Catholic schools as a clinical/school counselor.

In 2007, Linda assumed the role of director with a clear mission and vision for growth and excellence. Under her steady, focused forward thinking and guidance, UCDRC gained recognition in the community as a responsible, impactful program that mitigated the non-academic barriers to learning. Soon after Linda’s initiation into the role of director, principals who were not being served by UCDRC clamored for counselor services provided by this transformational program. More schools partnered with UCDRC under Linda’s leadership, resulting in program growth and additional counselors and family advocates becoming part of the team. One of Linda’s greatest strengths was her ability to demonstrate the worth of the program to generous philanthropists who offer support and resources.

In 2012, Linda experienced some changes in her personal life which led to her new role as development director and clinical advisor for UCDRC. Her new responsibilities were to offer guidance and apply for several grants to keep the program funded. The Center for Catholic Education is sad to report that Linda is no longer able to continue working with UCDRC because of the demands of her personal life. She will be greatly missed by many.

Before her departure from the program, Linda offered her reflections on the work of UCDRC in Dayton’s urban Catholic schools. Her statement is below.

Farewell Statement

The amount of violence happening in schools across the United States is alarming. Since 2010, there have been 39 school shootings, resulting in 39 deaths and 45 injuries. The most well-known recent tragedy is Sandy Hook in Connecticut. But this time frame does not include the massacres at Virginia Tech or Columbine or the numerous others, as these occurred prior to 2010. When a violent school attack happens, and especially when the number of people killed is a large one, the entire country sits up and takes notice and all sorts of thing are talked about. Some say arming more people is necessary. Others say guns need to be banned. Some say teachers should be allowed to carry guns, or police need to be in every building, or volunteers should be recruited to “watch over things” in schools. None of these “solutions” address the mental health problems that routinely are involved in many of these shootings.

The simple truth is that our schools have children, their parents, and even some teaching staff with mental problems that go unnoticed and/or untreated. Most suggestions never deal with addressing the cause of the violence or provide continuous, comprehensive violence prevention and safety education services to all students. To think teachers can be trained to identify mental health problems is absurd. Teachers have enough challenges getting children to learn and are not trained to be mental health diagnosticians. Some think that if academic achievement is met, there will be few problems. That thinking is tragic because the majority of the shootings occurred in schools with good academic performance and the majority of the student populations were middle class where poverty issues were not a major concern. A perfect example is what happened in a local suburb in the late 1990s. These schools had a rash of suicides caused by undiagnosed depression in students that were academically talented, popular, and middle class. Students in a Catholic high school in Cincinnati watched in horror as an honor student shot himself in the head in an attempt to end his life. In all these cases, no one was aware that these children were having significant mental health issues.

UCDRC is a program that has addressed prevention and treatment of mental health problems for the last twelve years. It is staffed by clinicians who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems. Unfortunately, schools employ school counselors and school psychologists who are not trained or licensed to diagnose or treat mental and emotional problems. UCDRC has twelve years of solid data showing success in treatment and in violence prevention. Many disasters have been averted. Because of confidentiality, UCDRC is limited in what and how it can publish this information. There have been times when we have needed to warn those that have threatened others or warned parents that their child is suicidal. And UCDRC staff took the appropriate steps to keep a tragic event from happening AND made sure the person needing help received the appropriate treatment. But without a doubt, suicides and attacks on others were prevented and people needing treatment received the needed services. Obviously, UCDRC is a program that is exactly what our country requires to tackle the violence occurring in the schools.

However, it is most unfortunate that what UCDRC does touches such a small number of people. The issue is larger than this program can resolve all by itself. It is a moral and ethical one for all educators and the entire country. It is a sad fact that schools can no longer only deal with the mandate to educate. Violence prevention and safety education needs to be done, and not by just anyone, but by those who know what they are looking at when problems develop or can notice the student who may have problems even though their grades are good and have no behavior problems. This requires extra services, and they cost money. The solution is not cheap. It takes money, and a commitment to provide for the whole child in an adequate manner, not with the quick, cheap attempt that so many utilize.

Bringing in mental health agency personnel to treat identified problems by school personnel misses those with problems who are not obvious to the untrained eye. Making sure that all children are being noticed is not happening; the appropriate words are being said but the needed action is not happening. Many excuses are made for why what is needed can’t happen. No child left behind is a popular phrase. There seems to be a price at which we will not do what is necessary to save the lives of our children. This is an ugly but true statement, as this is what we are doing by our lack of appropriate action to tackle the issue. Looking at what currently is not going on across the country indicates the cost to adequately protect and keep our children safe is a price too high for this country to tackle.

May God continue to bless the foundations and benefactors that have so generously trusted their precious resources with UCDRC. They have made the ultimate sacrifice to children and the problem of violence in our schools. Unfortunately, these funders have resources that are limited, and they cannot take on the entire problem by themselves – even in the Dayton area alone. Continuing to acquire sufficient funding has become more challenging for UCDRC with each passing year.

Linda Russell
Former Director of the Urban Child Development Resource Center (UCDRC)