It seemed like every year or two a classmate of mine in high school would die in an accident; often, it was car accidents. The year after I left for college, a high school friend disappeared. A month later, they found her body, but never her killer, nor the reason. At times, it haunts me still.
Being hundreds of miles away, I could not make it back for the memorial service, but I remember receiving newspaper clippings and phone calls from my mother. “They found Rocky’s body…”
I received a copy of the memorial service bulletin. I remember my Latin teacher read Robert Frost’s “Out, Out…”. I remember seeing articles from the papers with lines like, “Counselors have been made available at the school this week.”
Today, I read about a high school student from Westport who died unexpectedly; “Counselors have been made available at the school this week.” I thought of the young boy in Salem, CT, whose death was not unlike the boy in Frost’s poem. The buzz saw was replaced with a chipper. “Counselors have been made available at the school this week.”
Who are these counselors that have been made available? The Community Health Center has behavioral health providers at schools across our state. They are part of our School Based Health Center program.
I know the talking points about the value of school based health centers. Kids can get help that they need without having to leave the school. They miss less class time. Their parents don’t have to take the day of to drive them to the doctor’s office. Yet, here was an aspect of the school based health centers that I hadn’t thought about. They have professional behavioral health staff in schools that can help during these difficult times.
One of our behavioral health providers is Elizabeth Cestero. She grew up in Salem, and her family continues to reside there and is very much impacted by the death of the young boy. She works with our Enfield School Based Health Center and helped students as they struggled with their grief and difficult feelings when some Fermi high school students committed suicide earlier this school year.
Working within the school allowed students to drop into the health center as needed to process the loss. It also allowed school staff members a place to process their grief. Being a part of the school community allows for therapists to design programs to follow the trends within the population and to provide quicker access to services in times of crisis. Once the word was out about our services in the middle school Elizabeth ended up having a lot of drop ins in her after school group and ended up having to open up the group to more and more students and offer more group times to accommodate the demand.
It would be great if students did not have to face the death of classmates, but unfortunately, that remains too common an occurrence, and as long as there are tragedies like these, there will be a need for counselors like Elizabeth and her co-workers to help out.