Talking to elementary students after a student passes away suddenly

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Jerseygirlteach, Sep 12, 2014.

  1. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I hope someone can help me right away, if possible. My students are at lunch right now. I found out this morning that a student in my school passed away - apparently from a seizure in the middle of the night, but I'm not completely sure. Most of my students were in his class last year - a small group of just 12 kids. All of my students knew him well, and one of them was pretty much his best friend. This morning they found out he passed when the bus stopped at his house and the boy's father told the bus driver. They witnessed a devastated father telling the driver and the father and driver crying about it together.

    On top of that, the school social worker came in to my class to help, but told the kids that "he died in his sleep." Some of my kids got scared from that, worrying if that could happen to them. I explained to them that sleeping was not why he died, but I'm sure they're still concerned for themselves and their loved ones.

    My school social worker recommended that I have them make cards or write letters to express their feelings. I don't know if I want to do that. I feel like continuing to talk about it might not be the best answer unless they bring it up.

    Please let me know what you think. They come back from lunch in 20 minutes. :)

    Thanks
     
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  3. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Maven

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I wouldn't make them write about it or talk about it, but it needs to be an option. Unfortunately we have had students pass away several times, from car accidents, illnesses, accidents, and suicides.

    Some need things "business as usual". Others need an outlet for their feelings . . . immediately or days later.

    Tried counselors were always available to us after a student death.
     
  4. DizneeTeachR

    DizneeTeachR Virtuoso

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I'm shocked social worker said that.
    I would definitely get a note to parents so they can help over the weekend.
    I know we had a child in our grade (other class) toddler sister died. We had counselors...a lot of kids just wanted to make cards for their friends so we did that.
    So sorry for your school family....
     
  5. MikeTeachesMath

    MikeTeachesMath Devotee

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I have no advice, but I'm sending good vibes your way.
     
  6. DrivingPigeon

    DrivingPigeon Phenom

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    Sep 12, 2014

    No advice, but the thought of the father having to go out to the bus driver to share the news is just heart-breaking. :(
     
  7. bora

    bora Rookie

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I lost a student once. It was almost the end of the school year. He was in first grade. He died in an accident while playing close to his house. I dreamed about him that night. I saw my grandfather who was dead at that time took my student away from me and said," Don't worry, I will take care of him" grrr! :(
    The next morning when I went to school, my students came to me and...that's how I learned about his death. That day I didn't work. I went to his house with the principal. I just didn't know what to say to the mom who just lost her child. :(
     
  8. DizneeTeachR

    DizneeTeachR Virtuoso

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    Bora... how weird, awful & comforting at the same time....
     
  9. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I have another awkward question. It is Hispanic Heritage Month. Most of my students are Hispanic and I just started a unit on Latin America and Hispanic Heritage. We started talking about Mexico and yesterday I told them that we would be discussing Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and making masks. They were excited by this and were looking forward to it. Now I don't know what to do. How can I talk about Dia de los Muertos right after a classmate dies? But, I already told them we would be doing it...

    What do you think?
     
  10. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

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    Sep 12, 2014

    I would ask for guidance from your admin on the Dia de los Muertos thing.
     
  11. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Sep 12, 2014

    Hugs, Jersey. My take is that you do what you were going to do for Dia de los Muertos, and just make sure you've got plenty of tissues on hand, because what Dia de los Muertos is for is coping with this thing we call death. You might do well to give the parents a heads up; the Hispanic parents shouldn't find this problematic, but we could work with you on phrasing a letter home for everyone else.
     
  12. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Sep 12, 2014

    No advice, but that's a sad situation, so sorry. It's especially terrible what they witnessed between the dad and bus driver, so heartbreaking, can't imagine.
     
  13. smalltowngal

    smalltowngal Multitudinous

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    I have no advice, just lots of :hugs: and prayers.
     
  14. bewlove

    bewlove Companion

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    Sep 13, 2014

    I've never dealt with anything like that. How heartbreaking. As I'm thinking of my students, I honestly can't imagine losing one. I know my love for them is nothing compared to a parent's love.

    I think it is good and healthy to talk to them about it. Perhaps if they don't want to talk about it, let them read or work on something while listening to headphones around the room, while you can take 15 minutes to talk with the others and explain that while he did die in his sleep, it was because he had a condition in his brain that caused it. Let them know that they don't have that condition, so they aren't afraid.

    I would also just give lots of hugs, and tell the students that if they want to write or draw something about him that they are welcome to. Maybe you could send them to the family, or just hang them up in your room or in an area of the school where there may be a picture of him. Or they could just keep them, if that would make them happier.
     
  15. MissScrimmage

    MissScrimmage Aficionado

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    Sep 13, 2014

    I am so sorry for your school's loss and I'm so sorry about how things have been handled!

    In my short career (6 years) I have had 2 students at my elementary school pass away. These are a few things I've learned:

    1. Children are resilient, understanding and more comfortable with death than adults. They follow a grief cycle like adults but in general are more willing to talk about things.
    2. They need normal. Go ahead with your plans. That is always the first thing our principal tells us - keep on going with routine, normal school.
    3. Provide outlets for expression - writing cards, drawing pictures. It's helpful to leave the child's desk in the same place for a bit so students can drop off their pictures and cards. The desk should be removed from the classroom when the children are ready - don't sneak it out after school one day. They will likely want to keep that child's spot in their class for the remainder of the year.
    4. Pack up the child's belonging with love and respect. Don't just bag them up in a plastic grocery store bag. Buy a beautiful basket and present the belongings to the family with care.
    5. We have a team that always provides a 'script' for every classroom teacher to read following a death. We all read the same message to every child in the school. They are all encouraged to ask questions and guidance counsellors from other schools descend upon our school like a squad team to be available for students AND staff.

    If I think of anything else I'll respond. Again, I'm so sorry. Any death is tragic, but it's so hard when it's a student!
     
  16. Jerseygirlteach

    Jerseygirlteach Groupie

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    Sep 13, 2014

    Thank you everyone. I just wanted to clarify about the social worker's response. I think he was just shocked and didn't really know how to find the right words when he told my class that the boy died in his sleep or, to quote him exactly: "He went to sleep last night and died in his sleep. His parents weren't able to wake him up this morning." In the social worker's mind, I'm sure he thought he was comforting them by showing how the boy didn't suffer. He meant no harm at all. I jumped in immediately and tried to explain that we're all very sad about what happened, but it's important to know that this won't happen to any of them. It wasn't because he was sleeping; it just happened to occur while he was sleeping. A couple of my kids continued to ask about the sleeping thing after my social worker left so we discussed it a bit more.

    The social worker meant well. My class was the very first class he came to because it holds almost all the boy's classmates from the previous year. Since we were first, he didn't really have time to think about how best to discuss it with the students. However, he knew they needed the conversation because of what happened with the bus.

    Thanks for all the feedback. I'm going to ask my principal about the Dia de los Muertos thing and do as instructed.
     

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