The holiday season can be a challenging time for families, and as students return to the classroom in the New Year, it’s important that teachers know their students may be coping with grief. In an effort to shed light on how teachers and parents can better support grieving young people now and all year long, Vice President of the New York Life Foundation Maria Collins and Chelsea Prax, Programs Director, Children’s Health & Well-Being, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), joined host Jenny Lisk on a recent episode of her show, The Widowed Parent Podcast.
The discussion comes at a time when recent survey data from the New York Life Foundation and the AFT suggests that COVID-19 has significantly amplified the need for social and emotional support in our nation’s schools. In fact, nearly all educators surveyed (95 percent) agree that social and emotional support for students has never been more important than it is now.
Acknowledging grief in the classroom: teachers play a critical role
As host Jenny Lisk notes, school is a major part of life for young people, so it’s a critical place for them to receive grief support, especially now. Teachers agree: the survey found that three in four educators (75 percent) report that COVID-19 has opened their eyes to the immense impact of grief and loss, and 93 percent believe that the traumatic effects of the coronavirus on students will be felt long-term.
“We know that there are grieving kids in our nation’s classrooms every day and the pandemic has only made grief support, along with social and emotional support, all the more important” - Maria Collins, Vice President of the New York Life Foundation.
“We know that there are grieving kids in our nation’s classrooms every day and the pandemic has only made grief support, along with social and emotional support, all the more important,” said Vice President of the New York Life Foundation Maria Collins. “If we want to create a culture of grief sensitivity in schools, collaboration is key. We all play a part in supporting grieving students in the classroom and in our community.”
In addition to grieving the loss of a loved one, teachers are also attuned to non-death related losses, including the loss of routines, community and the celebration of milestones that are often intertwined with students’ academic experiences. When asked how many students each school year typically need their support due to the loss of a loved one, 87 percent of educators said at least one, and 25 percent said six or more. Eighty-four percent of educators say that the coronavirus has made them more aware of the impact of “non-death related losses” on the students they serve.
Parents can ensure their children receive grief support at school
Do not assume your child’s teacher has had grief training. More than 90 percent of the educators surveyed said that they personally would be interested in participating in bereavement training offered through their school or district. School communities can provide educators with resources and various forms of training via the New York Life Foundation’s Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI), which trains New York Life agents and employees to act as GSSI Ambassadors and present free grief support to local schools and districts across the country with the goal of building a more robust culture of grief support and resiliency.
· Communication is key. Have an open dialogue with educators and the school administration and let educators know about an old or new loss. This can help school staff observe patterns, mitigate triggers in advance and coach students to adopt different coping strategies. A death in the family is typically not on students’ records, so parents should also provide this information from year to year and school to school.
· Share your grief rituals with educators when a loss occurs. If parents provide information about their religious/cultural observances involving grief, teachers can be more thoughtful about students’ needs and make the appropriate accommodations in the classroom.
· Ask for help. Seek assistance from anyone who works in the school community that interacts with your child regularly. They can help you to spread information about your child’s situation to other caring adults.
Interested about learning more about the grief crisis in schools and how you can help? You can read more about the survey here, access free bereavement resources from the New York Life Foundation here and listen to the podcast here.
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