Last year, we had five local students die...one by drinking and drowning
(skipping school, three friends together). The others by suicide. One of
the suicides was the son of our physics/science teacher. We only have about
90-100 students in the high school as we are a small logging community in
one of Wisconsin's national forests. There were many dynamics at play,
including the fear of "who will be next?" Counseling was ongoing.
Our school brought in social service counselors, pyschologists, local
clergy, and as teachers we were told to allow students to grieve. We also
are a fairly small and close faculty of about 36 teachers and administrators
and are trusted enough to speak into the lives of the students. We came
together as a "family"...had a student assembly for which counselors and
clergy took turns to speak. The community was invited. As teachers, we
were instructed to allow students to leave if they felt the need to go and
speak with a counselor.
Turns out that a sense or spirit of "anger" developed among many students.
Anger toward the senselessness of suicide. Anger toward the negative
attention it was bringing to our school. Angry that one more student might
do something stupid.
Kids that grow up in a blue collar environment such as logging, mining,
etc., learn somewhere that crying is a sign of weakness. Our concern was
the students holding it all in. We grew tired of going to funerals, that is
for sure. Many began losing the ability to cry. Their eyes were red, but
they revealed a glassy glazed look of both fear of "who is next?" and
Bottom line is...for such a time as this kids need flexibility to be allowed
to grieve to honor the value of being human and a friend being lost.
Followed up soon with a structure of normalcy, that life will go on. Be
sensitive. Allow your students to go off and talk. Cry. Create an
environment that will be "safe" for them to do that. At the same time,
encourage those that may want to work to do so....perhaps pointing out that
for "artists" sometimes doing one's work is a legitimate means of sorting
thru one's many emotions. Working....not as a sign that one doesn't care,
but that art quiets the soul long enough for the individual to go deep
inside and release emotions that might otherwise get pent all up. Keeping
the pot from boiling over. Take care...and our thoughts and prayers are
with you at this time! -Larry