Corporate Social Responsibility

Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative hits milestone.

New York Life | July 16, 2019


As the largest corporate champion of childhood bereavement support over the past decade, the New York Life Foundation has a longstanding commitment to improving the support available to grieving children and their families across the country. In 2013, the Foundation partnered with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement to address the issue of how grief is handled at school – resulting in the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI), a national program serving to direct schools and school districts to accessible grief resources. 

This summer, we just surpassed our goal of providing grief resources to 1,000 schools through GSSI. Since officially launching in October 2018, the award-winning program has engaged nearly 1,800 agents and employees in 46 states.

New York Life created GSSI to help address a longstanding issue in the nation’s schools: According to a NYLF survey of U.S. educators:

  • *One in 14 children will experience the death of a parent of sibling by age 18
  • Nearly 70% of teachers have at least one grieving student in their classroom.
  • Only 7% of classroom teachers get bereavement training.

Studies show that unresolved grief can affect children socially and emotionally, leading to behavior and school performance issues, and only a quarter of those who lost a parent growing up say that their school was well prepared to help them.

“Reaching this milestone illustrates the demand for resources that equip school communities with the tools to support the millions of grieving students in their classrooms,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation. “While we’re seeing strong momentum, our work is far from finished. Bereavement in the classroom is unfortunately an ever-present issue 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”

Bereavement in the classroom is unfortunately an ever-present issue and the need for these resources will continue to grow.

-Heather Nesle

“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 and 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.”

Participation in GSSI resulted in tangible changes for many schools.

The impact of the program has been felt by schools nationwide as they look to better address the social-emotional needs of their students. A survey of participating schools found: 

“These resources could not have come at a better time, as last spring our campus had multiple families dealing with loss. The online tools and training modules allowed our teachers to feel better prepared…in addition, our counselors used the materials to hold group therapy sessions and we distributed the resources to the surviving parents as well.”

“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 supports,” said Jason Jones, principal of Alford Middle School in Corona, California.

The GSSI program has also received strong support from New York Life’s workforce. A total of 361 agents have completed more than one school presentation. For Scott Slusser, a New York Life agent in Washington, the issue hits close to home:

“I jumped at the chance to become involved because when my mother passed away when I was 11, the elementary school staff was not equipped to help me cope with my loss. The time frame it took me to properly grieve extended longer than it should have. Now as an adult, looking back at my grieving process, I know I handled it the best I could – but it would have helped to have had more support.”

New York Life employees and agents who participate in the program serve as GSSI Ambassadors to K-12 schools in their communities, helping to raise awareness of the impact of grief on school-aged 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 includes a grant from the Foundation to help support their efforts as well as a donation of grief-related books and resources. To date these grants total $600,000.

In addition to working locally with employees and agents, The New York Life Foundation also works with some of the nation’s largest school districts in California, Colorado, and Florida. These efforts led to recognition from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, which named and GSSI as one of nine winners of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools Values Matter Miami Awards.

For more information about becoming a grief-sensitive school, you can go here.

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


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Media contact

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