School's 'Day of Hope' Causes Grief

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A day after National Children's Grief Awareness day and kids in Ms. Spangler's second grade class are enjoying indoor recess.

While the kids seem fine, some parents are upset that Thursday their students relived traumatizing experiences.

"[When] the kids got out of school, their eyes were still puffy--they were still teary eyed," said Brian Doyle a St. Johns Gateway North Elementary School parent, who said his kids totally broke down when they got home Thursday.

Doyle says his daughter was very upset by the grief discussion becuase during the past year, the family has had two deaths. It's their first holiday season without those relatives.

"For the school to do this, and make all these kids cry and then send an email home saying this is what we did, and you're child might need a hug," said Doyle "--to drudge it up makes it worse."

The morning of the "Day of Hope," the school posted to its website that Gateway would distributed blue butterflies to students to remember lost loved ones. The kids could write names on the butterflies and share memories if they wanted. That was the only forewarning administrators gave parents of the special grief awareness activity.

When some students didn't respond as well as anticipated the school sent out an email.

"One of the teachers had noted that some of the kids were having some difficulties and she wanted to inform the parents so that they could follow-up," said St. Johns Superintendent Dedrick Martin.

Doyle isn't the only parent upset.

"I have been told that other kids cried--but some of those cried because they lost a hermit crab, they lost a pet, someone died several years ago in their family, so it was a lot of different reasons why kids were emotional," said Superintendent Martin.

Gateway administrators said they had only good intentions. They want to support their students emotionally in addition to academics, and any negative reaction was unanticipated.

Many are grateful the school is reaching out to kids.

Tracy Arthur's fourth grader also cried, but she felt it was a positive experience.

"She really enjoyed it. She thought it was great for her class," said Arthur another Gateway parent. "Two of the children in her class have been impacted by a death in the family, so it was really good for them."

The folks at Ele's Place, which specializes in helping grieving kids, commends the school for attempting a challenging but important topic.

"I think it's wonderful that they tried to address it because we do want everyone to have more awareness of children's grief and particularly schools-- because children do bring their grief to school," said Sarah Rockstad, a Grief Counselor at Ele's Place. "Certainly in retrospect we can say it would have been much better if the parents had been notified ahead of time."

That's something administrators are considering.

"We will certainly look at better ways that the staff can communicate this type of thing prior to, so that we don't unintentionally cause undo harm or cause a child to relive their grief in a way that may be counter productive to our intent," said Martin.

Doyle's kids are doing fine now, but he hopes in the future the district gives him the opportunity to opt out.

"We still want the family and the kids to know that we are here to support them," said Martin. "If we made any error we will review what we've done and how we can communicate better and we'll do that."

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