School district crisis teams busy in Colorado

9NEWS @ 9. 9/21/2016

KUSA - School has been in session for just about a month, and already students in Colorado have had to deal with grief and the loss of a friend or a teacher.

Whenever tragedy impacts a school, 9NEWS usually passes along familiar information about grief counselors being available to students and staff. Those counselors sent to schools are likely part of a district crisis team, which is made up of psychologists, social workers and nurses.

“Denver Public Schools crisis team was deployed 41 times last school year, which was a lot higher than the year before, and this year I think we’ve already been out seven times,” Ellen Kelty said, program manager for Denver Public Schools Department of Social Work and Psychological Services.

Kelty said the DPS crisis team offers support to more than 200 schools. During a crisis, teams of four or more visit schools and meet with students and staff.

“It’s a hard part of our job, but I think it’s one of the most important things that we do,” Kelty said.

Over the past month, crisis teams have been busy in Colorado. From Castle Rock to Loveland, there have been deadly car crashes and freak accidents. On Tuesday, a Castle View High School senior was killed when her car crashed head-on into a Douglas County School District delivery truck. Last Friday, a cross country runner from Peak to Peak Charter School collapsed during a race and died. Later that night, two teachers from Fort Collins and Longmont High Schools were killed in a rollover wreck near Loveland. On Sept. 11, a school bus driver transporting Legacy High School football players and coaches died after her bus crashed at Denver International Airport.

“I think that sometimes people think we should just be able to tell kids to get over it, or you didn’t know that person that well, just get to work, and it doesn’t work like that,” Kelty explained. “Kids take time to get back to normal and to go through that process.”

The grieving process often begins with a conversation with students in a classroom.

“Talking to them about what happened and how are they feeling and then teaching them how to support their friend,” Kelty said.

Support is what students need most when the unthinkable happens. Kelty said students experience grief differently, and some may need more time than others. However, she pointed out important warning signs for parents to keep in mind.

“We can expect that they would have a hard time for a couple weeks,” Kelty said. “They might be depressed or angry or withdrawn, but if that continues for a while, be sure to let your school staff know so that we can keep track of any risk of suicide or any long-term problem.”

Kelty said all DPS schools are staffed with psychologists or school social workers. A crisis team that’s called out to a school typically spends a day or two on campus during the immediate crisis, but may stay longer if needed. There’s even a state crisis team that can be deployed from the Colorado Society of School Psychologists in case of a major crisis.

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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