Gasconade County R-2 School District has kept grief counselors on hand at the middle and high schools since April 21 when news was released that a freshman student may have taken his own …
Gasconade County R-2 School District has kept grief counselors on hand at the middle and high schools since April 21 when news was released that a freshman student may have taken his own life.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeri Kay Hardy confirmed on Monday that the actions of the student, who was well-liked, were unexpected.
“Everyone was at a loss,” Hardy said. “We had no inclination.”
As news of the tragedy circulated the high school and teachers became aware, immediate action to pull in counselors from the other buildings and grief counselors into the school for students and teachers began.
“We had to make sure teachers and students were ok and provide support for students and faculty,” Hardy said. “There are no answers. Everyone looks to adults for ‘why? What happened?’ and those are answers that we are all arguing with ourselves and our own internal struggle.”
At the high school, counselor Raquel Bunton brought in a therapy dog that helped some of the students who needed comfort.
“It doesn’t take away what happened or make it easier, but is another form of support,” Hardy said.
Owensville High School Principal Kris Altemeyer sent a letter out to students and families.
“It is with great sadness I inform you that we were notified this morning one of our OHS students took his own life,” Altemeyer wrote. “Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends during this tough time. The OHS staff and district counseling department have been meeting with students throughout the day as we all process this tragic event. Hearing about the death of someone can be very shocking and overwhelming. For some students, it is a reminder of other loved ones who they have lost in similar ways. Please be understanding that those around you may be struggling. We have informed all students they may notify their teacher and contact one of our counselors at any time. We have extra counselors available to help meet the needs of all students.”
Hardy added on Monday that the students, whether they knew the individual personally or not, were all affected.
“For some kids, whether they had a close relationship or not, this is the first time any of them have had to deal with the death of someone close to them, a school mate, or someone they had knowledge of,” Hardy said. “They haven’t had to deal with this type of crisis before. They haven’t had to deal with death.”
Hardy said the emotional undercurrents at the school are really based on individual students at the moment.
“They are shattered,” she said. “Students, parents, teachers. It is something — the crisis is so unexpected — that is the initial reaction.”
While counselors were first brought into the high school, it soon became apparent that middle school students and teachers would also need support.
“We needed a couple to go to the middle school for students and staff there,” Hardy said. “It was a shared burden between the buildings and the counselors should be commended for that day and dealing with a crisis they have never had to deal with before.”
Hardy emphasized again that there didn’t seem to be signs of depression or suicide with the student. From all angles, the boy seemed to be a happy individual, and therefore it is hard to emphasize the signs of depression or suicide in this case.
“Just make sure if you see something that looks out of the ordinary, if anyone has any knowledge, say something,” she said. “You are never prepared, but try to be cognisant of the fact and of students who may be struggling. If something seems off, we need students and adults to both reach out and speak to counselors or there is an 800 number out there for students to call or text if they feel that may help. We have to be proactive if we see something that seems a little off to notify the proper individuals.”
As of April 26, counselors have all gone back to their individual buildings. The high school still has their staff counselors and the district’s family school liaisons are in residence.
“When looking at the grieving process, there is no set time. It may hit students at different times. Just be on guard for behaviors that students are struggling and offer support that they need,” Hardy said. “We are hyper aware or sensitive to students, how they are feeling and reaching out to someone if they need help. We will keep an eye out and be cognisant of the fact that students handle grief and death differently.”
Hardy confirmed that the district has not had any type of known student suicide in the past 20 years or since Altemeyer has been in the district.
Altemeyer reminded students in the letter he sent out that help is available.
“We want to take this opportunity to remind our community suicide is very complicated,” he said. “If you feel like someone you know is at risk of committing suicide, please call the national Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-877-273-TALK.”
The district also provided additional information to assist students and parents such as a counseling/mental health resource list and tips for parents of students who are grieving. For more information or counseling tips, students or parents may contact the counselors at the high school.