MOUNT VERNON — Losing a classmate to a medical condition or an accident at any age can be difficult, but when it happens in elementary school, middle school or even high school, the loss can be devastating. Local school districts have mechanisms in place to help students deal with their grief.
“One of the hardest things you have to do,” said Danville Superintendent Dan Harper, “is bury a student. To help the other students, extra counselors may be brought in, and the local ministerial association sends people to talk with and listen to the students.”
The intervention is done on an individual needs basis, said Harper.
“You have to know the students; be sensitive to their needs and help them work through it,” he said.
“Sometimes, if someone has been sick, people are more prepared for their passing than if it was an accident,” he explained. “You also have to be sensitive to the needs of the family. Sometimes the school will work with the family with regard to their wishes about calling hours and the funeral service and things like that.”
Other districts also call in additional personnel when needed, including Mount Vernon.
“Besides our counselors and social workers,” said Mount Vernon Superintendent Steve Short, “we have volunteers and we have people calling us from the community who work in mental health who put themselves on call. We have a lot of people we can call who work with these issues.”
Short said teachers are notified of a student’s death as soon as possible after the district learns of it. That way, they can be prepared, keep an ear to the ground listening to students, and be ready to help.
“If there are brothers or sisters in different schools, we make sure that the staff in those buildings are also aware,” said Short. “You don’t know who knows what happened. You don’t know how the kids are going to come in, whether they will come in or not.
“Then you try to prepare for friends and other kids close to the family. That’s the hard part — when they see their friends upset, or when somebody they’ve been close to dies, and they haven’t had the chance to share thoughts or ideas, that’s when you find yourself spending some time listening.
“We try to deal with everything the best we can to provide those opportunities for students to share and have those conversations. We also do our best to help parents.”