Another local student’s death highlights a growing need in schools: Grief counselors

The death of a Mason 10-year-old last month led the Journal-News to report on a growing focus in Ohio’s schools: The availability of grief counselors after tragic events.

That need was in the news again last week, as Kings schools brought in grief counselors after the death of a student.

A St. Susanna School student, 10-year-old Tessa Thompson, and her parents were killed last week in a car crash on Interstate 75 south of Dayton.

The small Catholic school in Mason was provided grief counselors from the nearby and larger Mason school system.

“Unfortunately terrible events do occur from time to time, and there are occasions they are needed,” said Holli Morrish, spokeswoman for Butler County’s Talawanda Schools.

Procedures vary among school districts.

Some contract with local mental health counseling agencies and bring in those personnel as needed. Others may have some school counselors trained and certified in mental health and grief counseling.

Teachers are often key in this process because they know their students and can be the first to spot the signs of sadness, anxiety or depression that can follow the death of a classmate or school staffer, officials said.

“Students are informed through school announcements and face to face announcements through faculty, but we also utilize other communication tools so that we inform parents of these opportunities and they can also encourage their student to use this resource if they need to talk to someone,” she said.

At Kings schools in southern Warren County, school officials have created a team of employees designed to respond to such tragedies.

“As soon as a tragedy hits, we have a Crisis Team that begins collaborating immediately. The team consists of administrators, school guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists,” said Dawn Gould, spokesperson for Kings.

“We have used social media to alert parents and students of the availability of counselors, (and) announcements are made. In the younger grades, the school counselors do a great job of visiting classrooms and addressing students as a group. Of course, if there is a need for individual counseling, that is available as well.

“The district partners with Solutions Counseling services that provides therapists, as well as staffing our own psychologists. The counseling is offered for as long as the individual school buildings feel that their students need them there.”

Next school year, Kings officials plan to further bolster their response resources.

“One new addition to our team for next year is a full-time, school-based social and emotional health coordinator,” Gould said. “This person will act as the point of contact for all mental health services as referred to by the district for triage, providing mental health consultation as well as crisis intervention services.”

At Edgewood Schools, “when a tragic situation occurs involving a student or staff member, our school counselors, school psychologists, the counselors from Catalyst Counseling, who are present in each of our schools, and administrators initiate support for any student needing assistance,” said Pam Pratt, spokesperson for the Butler County school system.

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