School teams gear up for counseling when tragedy strikes

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Teams that counsel students when tragedy strikes classmates and teachers have been busy in Columbus schools recently.

The district deployed the teams 17 times last school year and several times again this year, The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday ( Reasons for deploying the team include shootings, suicides, car crashes and cancer deaths, and can involve things that happened to both students and staff members.

The district sent in a team in October when a drive-by shooting wounded two boys, ages 12 and 15, outside Linden-McKinley STEM Academy.

Cheryl Ward, the district’s director of student and family engagement, calls on about 120 school counselors and 27 social workers to put together a response team, which can consist of up to 20 people.

Once Ward hears of a situation, she gets the facts, reaches out to the family of the victim, and talks to employees about ways to support them.

After a death, counselors and students huddle in groups and talk about the person, Ward said. Usually grief and disbelief turns to remembrance as students write cards for the victim’s family and make collages dedicated to the person.

Suburban schools also have teams but use them less frequently.

Central Ohio’s Olentangy schools call teams in once or twice a year, about the same for the six-member crisis-response team used by Westerville schools.

Addressing student suicide is particularly difficult, said professor Darcy Granello, a suicide researcher at Ohio State University. There are legitimate concerns about copycat incidents among psychologically fragile people, especially in close-knit environments such as schools, Granello said.

Janet Routzong, principal of Whetstone High School in Columbus, had never called for a response team in four years as principal. But when she got the early-morning call this fall about a student suicide, she called her director immediately.

“For us, the support was there from the first minute,” Routzong said.


Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,