When Death Impacts Your School : A Guide for School Administrators

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9781890534059: When Death Impacts Your School : A Guide for School Administrators

A valuable resource for school personnel who are faced with a death or tragedy in their school community. This guidebook includes suggestions for how schools can help students—by addressing concerns, organizing memorials and offering support. It also includes instructions for developing a school intervention plan after a death, how to address issues related to suicide and violence and how to know when outside help is needed.

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About the Author:

Since 1983, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families has provided loving support in a safe place where children, teens and their families grieving a death can share their experiences as they move through their healing process. Based in Portland, Oregon, The Dougy Center works regionally, nationally and internationally to provide support and training to individuals and organizations seeking to assist children in grief.

The Dougy Center is supported solely through private support from individuals, foundations and companies, and receives no state or federal funding. The Dougy Center does not charge a fee for its services.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Principal's Role in Helping Grieving Students and Staff

It was the night before Thanksgiving. The Moore family was getting ready to go to a church service. Lydia Moore went upstairs to check on her 11-year-old son, who had been in a time-out. What she saw when she entered the room made her scream. Using shoelaces tied together, Jake had hung himself in his closet. Lydia and her husband, and later paramedics, tried unsuccessfully to revive him. Within the hour, the Moore’s firstborn, their only son, was dead. In the midst of the shock and numbness that engulfed her in the early days after her son died, Lydia had an important realization: she was not the only one grieving. She thought a lot about her daughters, her son’s friends and classmates, and his teachers. What could be done for them? What would Jake want? All of sudden, it was very clear to her what she needed to do: go to her children’s elementary school and talk about what happened with the school community. As difficult as it was, this visit was one of the most helpful and healing things Lydia did for herself, her daughters and her son’s friends. "I knew I had to go because these children had a grief to bear," she recalled. "I wanted to tell them the truth, and not have them hear it secondhand. It was hard, but I had to do it." While in the classrooms, Lydia talked openly with her son’s friends and classmates and answered their questions about the death. An important ally during this time was Lydia’s school principal. Immediately after the death, the principal contacted all of the parents in both her son’s and her daughters’ classrooms. This helped ensure that the children received accurate information about the death before they came to school and had a chance to talk with their parents. The principal also provided a safe setting in which students and staff could discuss the death. He made a way for children to mourn the death of their friend Jake, and helped Lydia’s daughters feel accepted and loved at a time when they felt different from other children. In later years, the principal continued to honor Jake by memorializing him with a plaque in a picnic area by the playground. "He handled the situation properly and with the greatest sensitivity," Lydia said. Of course, not all parents would choose -- nor would it be advisable in all situations-- to handle a death in the unique and up front way Lydia did. What is important about Lydia’s story is the way in which her son’s principal intervened to help facilitate a healing process for the family, faculty, and other students who were affected by the death. When a death occurs, whether it is from a suicide like Jake’s, an accident, an illness, or an act of violence, the entire school community is impacted. In a very difficult and tumultuous time, Lydia’s principal played a strong leadership role in the grief process of the family and the school community. How he handled the situation set the stage for the healing process for everyone affected by the death. Although every family and every situation is unique, what really made a difference for the Moores, and for many other families who have experienced a death, is that the school principal and staff were prepared, pro-active, and sensitive in their responses to a significant loss.

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