The Total Child

Death In a School Community: Four Goals for Supporting Students

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, who develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. 

 A death in a school community has a deep impact. The loss will usually touch many individuals, students and staff alike, and often the entire school.

 It is vital that schools plan ahead to be prepared to deal with a range of possibilities involving the death of a student, teacher or other staff member. Information about the death is likely to spread quickly among students and staff. Responding rapidly and appropriately can limit rumors, misinformation and gossip.

 There are four important goals for supporting students at this time:

 1.      Normalize common experiences. Grief is personal and every individual will experience it differently. However, people who are grieving have similar types of needs. These include being acknowledged, understood and supported.

 Help students understand the range of feelings common after a death. Share ways people often express these feelings. Discuss how the feelings are likely to change in the days, weeks and months to come.

2.      Help students express and cope with their feelings. Invite questions and comments. Provide a safe, non-judgmental setting for these conversations. Classrooms and small groups offer students a chance to see how others are responding. They can share coping strategies and provide mutual support.

3.      Help students find additional resources. Many students will have a fairly straightforward reaction to the death and cope well with the grieving process. Others may have more complicated reactions. This might include students who were close to the deceased or the family, who had conflicts with the deceased, or who identify in some way with the person who died. It might also include students facing other challenges, such as a seriously ill family member, a recent death in the family, or pre-existing emotional challenges.

Talking with a counselor who has experience in bereavement can be helpful. This is especially important for any student experiencing a worsening of anxiety symptoms, depression or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

4.     Help younger students understand concepts about death. Younger students may have more trouble understanding certain concepts about death, such as that all living things eventually die, or the fact that the person who died is no longer feeling fear or pain.

All schools should have a school crisis team in place that develops a response plan in the event of a death. Having an effective plan in place allows schools to respond to these challenging events in a thoughtful and productive manner. While it will not take away the pain people feel about the death, it will offer the greatest likelihood of offering the support students most need.
Find out more about the specific steps schools can take at the website for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students (www.grievingstudents.org). Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

 The Coalition to Support Grieving Students was convened by the New York Life Foundation, a pioneering advocate for the cause of childhood bereavement, and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, which is led by pediatrician and childhood bereavement expert David J. Schonfeld, M.D. The Coalition has worked with Scholastic Inc., a long-standing supporter of teachers and kids, to create grievingstudents.org a groundbreaking, practitioner-oriented website designed to provide educators with the information, insights, and practical advice they need to better understand and meet the needs of the millions of grieving kids in America’s classrooms.

ESSA Advocacy and Your Role

(Coordinated School Health, National Awareness) Permanent link

A guest post by Dr. John Skretta, Superintendent of Norris School District (NE). Dr. Skretta. Dr. Skretta participated in AASA’s School Administrator Training Cadre for Coordinated School Health. 

The new Every Student Succeeds Act federal accountability law replacing the lockstep No Child Left Behind expands the definition of quality education to be more than core and replaces the NCLB narrow emphasis on "core academic" areas. Broader measures of student success are now a part of the equation.This creates a tremendous opportunity for school districts to institute best practice programming in coordinated school health with the support of federal resources and accountability measures. At Norris and in many similar school districts that have robust school wellness councils, that has included the following:

  •  Instituting and sustaining school wellness councils as a part of the broader school improvement effort of our district.
  • Offering a second chance breakfast to increase the number of qualified school breakfast participants getting the nutrition needed to be ready to learn on a daily basis.
  • Incorporating classroom furnishings like movement stools and stability balls for classrooms, as well as pedal desks and standing desks to eliminate sedentary learning environments.
  • Offering integrated professional development for teachers, coaching them on classroom-based physical activity strategies.
  • Providing highly qualified mental health services to students in need of higher level interventions through the services of LMHPs and other credentialed professionals.

 However, the realization of ESSA’s expanded intent and potential for improving whole child education in your district will not happen without purposeful and intentional efforts from advocates. Get involved! How?

 Here are some of the key advocacy opportunities for teachers related to whole child initiatives and ESSA implementation:

  •  Your presence and participation in professional development opportunities that expand the scope of student success beyond core academic areas. Norris will be bringing the Edu-Ninja Jennifer Burdis (an Elementary teacher who has appeared on two seasons of American Ninja) to our district in January 2017 to coach our teachers on modeling positive nutrition practices and PA breaks for the classroom.
  • Your willingness to share the research on the connection between health and academic outcomes. It is important that all educators become aware of the extent to which nutrition and physical health can positively impact cognition.
  • Expand the scope of federal Title services in your school to ensure that systems of support for safe and healthy schools children become a part of the Title block grant program in your district.
  • Participate in state level discussions through your Department of Education and local districts regarding the development of state accountability plans for ESSA to ensure health and physical education are elevated as content areas.

 Undoubtedly, there are many challenges that lie ahead with the implementation of ESSA in our respective states. The President’s request and the congressional authorization of block grants that can help schools institute coordinated school health are currently woefully underfunded – the law authorizes $1.65 billion and currently block grant authorizations are in place for just $275 million.

 The time is now for all of us to get involved and get behind a broader notion of accountability and school performance to nurture the total child. ESSA provides this opportunity, now let's capitalize on it!

Professional Self-Care When Supporting Grieving Students

(National Awareness) Permanent link

  KidGrievingCoalition

 A guest post by Dr. Tom Demaria from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, who develops a number of topical articles on bereavement for the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.

 Supporting Grieving Students? Take Care of Yourself, Too

 Have you taken steps to support grieving students and their families? If you have, you’ve offered them some of the most meaningful and lasting support they will ever experience. Having an impact such as this is exactly why many school professionals choose to work in education. 

However, this kind of effort can also be challenging. As one teacher said, “It can be difficult to talk with children about a death and see how sad they are.”

 Offering grief support can trigger a range of reactions in adults, including:

  •  Revisiting a past, personal experience of grief.
  • Feeling more anxious about your own health and mortality.
  • Increasing worries about a friend or family member who is ill.
  • Feeling resentful or uncomfortable about the feelings that arise, then feeling guilty or inadequate for not “managing” your emotions more effectively.

 These kinds of reactions are common. It’s important to talk with other adults about any troublesome feelings that might arise. Friends, family and colleagues can be helpful. There may also be times when the support of a bereavement specialist or mental health professional will be appropriate.

 “Quite Often, They Are Worn Thin”: When School Professional Support Grieving Students

  Offering support to grieving students and their families can be highly gratifying for school professionals. They are offering much-needed support during a critical time in a student’s life. The unique relationships children have with educators make these efforts immeasurably important. 

 But the impact on school professionals can be challenging, too. Grief is difficult to witness, and the grief of a child can be especially unsettling. It can be difficult to accept that it is not possible to prevent deep feelings of pain for a child who has lost a loved one.

 Educators may find their own past personal experiences of loss are triggered by a student’s grief. They may find themselves feeling new worries about the severity of an illness in their own life—could it become more severe? They may be concerned about a friend or family member. They may experience new apprehension about their own or others’ mortality. “They are worn thin,” one assistant principal explained.

 Sometimes, school professionals find they are uncomfortable with the role of providing support for grieving children. They may feel unprepared or have too many other stressful experiences in their lives at the moment. This can lead to feelings of guilt for “not doing better,” or a sense of insufficiency for not being more prepared.

 These are fairly common reactions. In some cases, it may be best for an educator to turn to someone else on the team—a school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or nurse; administrator; or teacher—to step into the role of offering support.

 It is important for educators to get support themselves when they are interacting with grieving students. Talking with friends, family and colleagues is usually helpful. Sometimes, it is also useful to speak with a mental health professional, bereavement specialist or employee assistance program.

 You can learn more about strategies for professional self-care at the Coalition to Support Grieving Students. Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

 The Coalition to Support Grieving Students was convened by the New York Life Foundation, a pioneering advocate for the cause of childhood bereavement, and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, which is led by pediatrician and childhood bereavement expert David J. Schonfeld, M.D. The Coalition has worked with Scholastic Inc., a long-standing supporter of teachers and kids, to create grievingstudents.org, a groundbreaking, practitioner-oriented website designed to provide educators with the information, insights, and practical advice they need to better understand and meet the needs of the millions of grieving kids in America’s classrooms.