Press Release

Virginia Teachers Hone Suicide Prevention Skills by Talking to Virtual Students
Simulated Role-Play Conversations Move Educators to Connect Students in Distress to Help

Media Contacts:
Jennifer Harrison for Kognito: 916-716-0636 or
Mike Mayor, Kognito: 212.675.9234 x203 or

FAIRFAX, Va. – May 21, 2015 – Teachers in Fairfax County have a new tool for learning how to save lives. This year more than 9,400 teachers and staff in the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) went through a unique series of online simulation programs in suicide prevention and mental health.  They explored the do’s and don’ts of what to say in conversations with virtual students in order to have the confidence and skills to support students in real life situations.  The online programs, At-Risk for High School Educators, At-Risk for Middle School Educators and Step In, Speak Up!, are among a portfolio of  immersive learning experiences for the PK-12 and higher education settings on mental health developed by Kognito. Click to tweet.

Dr. Mary Ann Panarelli, Director of FCPS Office of Intervention and Prevention, believed the district needed to provide additional resources to equip its staff to support students experiencing emotional distress following several student deaths by suicide.  Laura Yager, director of partnership and resource development for the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, brought Kognito simulations to Dr. Panarelli’s attention. She had found Kognito’s At-Risk for High School Educators listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).  In fact, the only digital simulations included in NREPP are three of Kognito’s products.

At-Risk for High School Educators is an online, evidence-based immersive learning experience that utilizes role-play conversations with virtual, fully-animated and emotionally responsive students. It prepares teachers and staff to recognize and engage with students who may be experiencing psychological distress by allowing them to practice challenging conversations with virtual students who are struggling with a range of issues from bullying to anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide.

“Part of my job is to ‘normalize’ the conversation and get people more comfortable with talking about suicide, depression and emotional distress,” said Ms. Yager. At-Risk she added, was “a really easy way to do this, because it’s not threatening.”  The Kognito simulation, made mandatory for all teachers in the county, was also well-designed for a large scale roll out. Yager said, “we could not have trained so many people so well, so fast and so cost-effectively in any other way.”

Fairfax County teachers put the skills learned to use right away. When one teacher noticed that a student was showing signs of psychological distress, he approached her, engaged her in a conversation and then escorted her to the counselor’s office.  “This teacher told the counselor, ‘I never would have done this, but I just took the Kognito At-Risk simulation and I know that it’s important to get her to you directly,’” Dr. Panarelli said.

FCPS plans to increase access to Kognito’s training simulations by offering At-Risk to more high school, middle school and, now, elementary school educators throughout the county. FCPS will even begin to train the students themselves by offering a new Kognito peer support simulation entitled “Friend2Friend”.  Adults and other community leaders may also take the online program at: where they can immediately log in or request permission if not a county or district employee.

Read a case study about FCPS.

About Kognito

Founded in 2003, Kognito is a leader in immersive learning experiences that drive positive change in health behaviors. Kognito’s award-winning online and mobile simulations with virtual humans prepare individuals and professionals to effectively manage challenging conversations about health. Kognito uses a science-driven, research-proven approach and currently has more than 450 clients in education, government and healthcare settings. The company has been recognized for its evidence-based programs, and is the only company with digital simulations listed in the National-Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP). Learn more or access demos at


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