Archive for Thursday, October 6, 2005

High school’s crisis plan put to the test with 2 deaths

October 6, 2005

Developing a response plan for times of crisis is a lot like Homeland Security, Basehor-Linwood High School counselor C.R. Gooden said.

"It's exactly the same thing because you don't know what's going to happen, but you need to be prepared to handle different situations," Gooden said. "The whole idea is your ready for almost any situation that comes your way."

The effectiveness of the high school's crisis response plan and the readiness of administrators, teachers and counselors in utilizing it, was never more tested than in recent weeks.

In less than a week, the high school lost two alumni from its most recent graduating class, the class of 2005.

On Sept. 22, Erin Massing died in a three-car vehicle accident at the intersection of 130th Street and U.S. Highway 24/40.

Five days later, David Raw, who was involved in a head-on collision in June, unexpectedly died at the University of Missouri Medical Center.

The high school implemented its crisis plan to help students cope with the loss of their former classmates, Gooden said.

Counselors from other schools in the district were brought to the high school to help students and additional therapists were on stand-by if needed.

The school's library was closed and used as a gathering point for grief-stricken students to visit with counselors.

"If there is any doubt at all, if there is anything at all, send those kids to us and we'll work with them," said Gooden of the instructions faculty members receive during times of crisis.

While dealing with a loss, the first order of business is always to tend to the students, administrators said.

Assistant principal Sandy Guidry said it's an absolute must for administrators and teachers to place the needs of students before their own feelings of loss.

"As an administrator, the first thing you have to think about are the other kids in the building," Guidry said.

The school's crisis plan, a living, breathing bundle of documents that is constantly reviewed and updated, lays out a blueprint for administrators and faculty to navigate through a myriad of difficult situations. Some of the hypothetical circumstances in the response plan includes strategies for dealing with a school shooting, a natural disaster or a hostage situation.

"About everything you can think of it covers," Gooden said.

Gooden, who's in his third year as the lead counselor at the high school, has seen the crisis response plan tested several times while BLHS has been confronted with the death of a student, former student or faculty member. He said none of those situations proved more difficult than when John Thornton, a popular history and social studies teacher, was found dead at his Edwardsville home.

It tested the school because Thornton was so revered by both students and faculty, Gooden said.

"That was probably the most intense," he said. "With Mr. Thornton, we had a lot of kids in the library and teachers were impacted by it, too."

During times of crisis, administrators and teachers keep a watchful eye out for students. Tell-tale signs of students struggling with a loss, Gooden said, include a change in behavior or a normally outgoing student suddenly withdrawing from their pack of friends.

While the loss of a friend or classmate is never easy to deal with, Gooden said lessons can be learned from the losess. Ideally, students are taking away something from the recent blows dealt to them, he added.

"Time helps heal," Gooden said. "I think any time a young person is confronted with death ... it makes them come face to face with their own vulnerability. Maybe they say, 'yeah, I am not invincible.' And, hopefully, it makes them be a little more careful and (helps) them rethink how they're treating one another."

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