NEW YORK, July 11, 2019 – The New York Life Foundation, the largest corporate sponsor of childhood bereavement support, today announced it has surpassed its goal of providing grief training and resources to 1,000 schools across the country through the Grief-Sensitive School Initiative (GSSI). Launched in October 2018, the award-winning program has reached more than 25,000 school community members in 46 states and generated strong engagement among New York Life’s workforce with nearly 1,800 agents and employees participating in the program.

“Reaching this milestone illustrates the demand for resources that equip school communities with the tools to support grieving students in their classrooms,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation. “While we’re seeing strong momentum, our work has just begun. Bereavement in the classroom is an ever-present issue impacting millions of students nationwide and the need for these resources will continue to grow. As a result of our employees’ and agents’ passion for supporting grieving children and educators, we aim to triple our impact by the end of 2020.”

“The primary reason educators don’t identify and support their grieving students is that they don’t know what to say or how to say it,” said David J. Schonfeld, MD, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. “New York Life and its GSSI Ambassadors are getting materials into the hands of educators and the school community throughout the country to provide much needed support that can have a profound effect during a critical time in students’ lives.”

Bereavement in the Classroom

A survey of schools participating in GSSI found that prior to exposure to the program, 97 percent of educators and other school staff did not know where to turn for bereavement resources geared toward educators. Participation in GSSI has resulted in tangible changes for many schools, including more training for school employees, better coordination among staff for supporting grieving students and partnerships with local bereavement centers.

“GSSI is connecting educators to a missing link in our work to support students. Often the teacher in the classroom is the first line of contact for a student and can identify changes in mood, attitude, and general disposition. When a teacher recognizes this change, they now have resources to link to the student and provide necessary support,” said Jason Jones, principal, Alford Middle School in Corona, California.

An Award-Winning Program

New York Life employees and agents who participate in the program serve as GSSI Ambassadors to K-12 schools in their local communities, helping to raise educators’ awareness of the impact grief can have on school-age children, and directing educators to relevant, free online resources and grief support tools. Schools that strive to become grief sensitive receive the “Grief-Sensitive School” designation, which is accompanied by a grant from the New York Life Foundation to help support their efforts as well as a donation of grief related books and resources, in partnership with First Book. To date nearly $600,000 in grants have been awarded to schools that have pledged to become grief sensitive.

In addition to facilitating local community efforts by employees and agents, the New York Life Foundation has been working to scale the impact of the program in some of the nation’s largest school districts in California, Colorado and Florida. These efforts have resulted in recognition from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which named New York Life and GSSI as one of nine Miami-Dade County Public Schools Values Matter Miami Award recipients, selected from more than 200 community nominations.

New York Life created GSSI to help address a longstanding issue in the nation’s schools: According to recent data1, one in 14 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18, yet only seven percent of classroom teachers have received bereavement training, according to the New York Life Foundation’s survey of U.S. educators.2 Studies show that unresolved grief can have a social and emotional impact on children, leading to behavioral issues and poor performance in school. Despite these consequences educators often feel under-prepared to help, as 93 percent  of teachers reported they have not received any bereavement training.

GSSI is an extension of the work begun by the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a collaboration among leading K-12 professional organizations to develop and deliver best-in-class grief support resources to educators. The New York Life Foundation founded the Coalition in 2013, in partnership with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, as part of its commitment to improving schools’ ability to reach their grieving students.

For more information about how to become a Grief-Sensitive School, please click here.

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Media contact
Lacey Siegel
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937

About the New York Life Foundation

Inspired by New York Life’s tradition of service and humanity, the New York Life Foundation has, since its founding in 1979, provided nearly $280 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofit organizations. The Foundation supports programs that benefit young people, particularly in the areas of educational enhancement and childhood bereavement. The Foundation also encourages and facilitates the community involvement of employees and agents of New York Life through its Volunteers for Good program and Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative. To learn more, please visit,

1.     Statistic derived from the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) developed by leading grief center Judi’s House/JAG Institute.

2.     This 2012 survey was administered by the New York Life Foundation in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and polled over 1,250 AFT educators and school personnel.