Sandy Hook students return, putting spotlight on need to help children cope

Counselors are at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but a survey finds that 93 percent of US teachers say they’ve never received training on how to support students who have lost a loved one.

Jessica Hill/AP
A woman hugs a child before he boards a bus on the first day of classes after the holiday break, in Newtown, Conn., Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013. Children from Sandy Hook Elementary School returned to school Thursday in the neighboring town of Monroe.

Mental-health counselors are just a few steps away if children are struggling as they start school Thursday at the new Sandy Hook Elementary School location.

But for thousands of students across America who have lost a loved one recently, help with grief is not so easy to come by.

About 7 out of 10 teachers report having a student who has lost a parent, guardian, sibling, or close friend in the past year, according to an early December survey by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the New York Life Foundation. Yet 93 percent of teachers say they’ve never received training on how to support bereaved students.

Many children “carry grief alone,” says David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement in Cincinnati, who is one of the survey authors. While teachers can’t be expected to be grief counselors, he says, “helping students understand how to cope with [loss] is a role schools can play.”

About 9 out of 10 teachers say there should be more training for educators to support grieving students.

They see the effects of grief on their students. Two-thirds of teachers say that students who have lost a parent or guardian experience a setback academically: Typically, they have difficulty concentrating and are absent from school more. Many teachers also observe these students becoming depressed, withdrawn, or angry, and about a third of teachers see increased behavioral problems.

Teachers that have received bereavement training are more likely to communicate with a parent or guardian, collaborate with other staff to help a grieving student, and refer students to community resources.

Nearly half of teachers say students come to them wondering how to respond to a classmate who is grieving.

“Loss can separate a student from peers just at a time when children desperately feel the need to fit in,” said Susan Kitchell, a nurse at Galileo Academy of Science & Technology in San Francisco, in a press release about the survey. But “[e]ducators can play an important role ... by helping friends and classmates understand what is happening.” Ms. Kitchell helped coordinate bereavement training in San Francisco as part of an AFT-New York Life project to expand such training.

On Wednesday, many Sandy Hook students and parents attended an open house at their repurposed school building in nearby Monroe, Conn.

Vinny Alvarez thanked his third-grade daughter’s teacher for locking her classroom door and keeping the children in a corner during the Dec. 14 mass shooting, the Associated Press reports. “The fear kind of kicks back in a little bit, but we're very excited for her and we got to see many, many kids today. The atmosphere was very cheerful,” he said.

Both the AFT and New York Life offer free resources for educators and other adults who want guidance in helping children cope with grief (go to and Another resource is the Children’s Grief Education Association.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Sandy Hook students return, putting spotlight on need to help children cope
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today