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Groundbreaking “Coalition to Support Grieving Students” Releases First-­‐Ever Bereavement Resource for Educators

Washington, D.C., January 13, 2015 – In a groundbreaking initiative to reach the millions of grieving students in classrooms across the nation, the Coalition to Support Grieving Students today launched  grievingstudents.org, an innovative multimedia resource designed to empower educators and school professionals in their efforts to support grieving students.  See Press Release

What is the Coalition to Support Grieving Students?

The Coalition to Support Grieving Students is a unique collaboration of the leading professional organizations representing teachers, principals, school administrators, school support personnel, and other school professionals who have come together with a common conviction: grieving students need the support and care of the school community. The Coalition’s purpose is to create and share a set of industry-endorsed resources that will empower school communities across America in the ongoing support of their grieving students.

Who are the Coalition members?

The lead founding members of the Coalition are the New York Life Foundation and the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.  The following professional organizations constitute the founding members of the Coalition:

·         AASA, The School Superintendents Association

·         American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

·         American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA)

·         American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

·         National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP)

·         National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP)

·         National Association of School Nurses (NASN)

·         National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)

·         National Education Association Health Information Network (NEA-HIN)

·         School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA)

What prompted the formation of the Coalition? 

The Coalition, formed in 2013, was created in response to a research initiative that polled educators nationwide on the subject of grief at school.  This research, conducted jointly by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and New York Life Foundation in 2012, revealed that America’s educators were keenly interested in helping the large number of grieving students in their classrooms, yet were in urgent need of more training and resources regarding childhood bereavement. 

It became clear that in order to most effectively address the gap between educators’ desire and ability to help the grieving students in their midst, the professional organizations representing K-12 educators needed to come together in unified support of the issue.  To that end, New York Life invited key players in the profession to address the lack of support for grieving students, forming a first-of-its-kind education coalition.

The Coalition was formed to elevate the national conversation around childhood grief and to encourage entire communities to take action to support the grieving children in their midst – while recognizing that schools have a critical role to play in addressing grief. 

Why is the Coalition focused on the issue of childhood grief?

The Coalition was founded to focus on the issue of childhood grief because prior to its formation, no organization or body existed that exclusively addressed the acute problem of how grieving children fare at school.  Yet schools have a critical role to play in the grief journey of children who have lost a loved one.  Schools are an ideal site at which to deliver care to grieving children: they are a safe and known setting for students, with a variety of trained staff available to address issues of grieving and death.  The response of teachers and classmates to a student’s grief can either serve as an important source of support and stability during a difficult time, or as an additional hurdle to surmount.  And importantly, grief can have a serious impact on learning, as bereavement can manifest itself in decreased academic performance, social withdrawal, and new behavioral problems. 

When did this initiative launch? Is it an ongoing effort?

While the Coalition was initially formed in 2013, its external resource – grievingstudents.org – it launched on January 13, 2015.  Our hope is that the website will provide critical resources for educators, school administrators, and staff as they look to regularly support their grieving students.

The ongoing importance of this initiative cannot be overstated.  Recent research conducted by the New York Life Foundation in conjunction with the American Federation of Teachers found that 69 percent of teachers currently had at least one student in their class(es) who had lost a parent, guardian, sibling, or close friend in the past year – indicating that there are thousands of grieving students sitting in classrooms across the country who need the daily support of their educators and the broader school community.

What is the Role of School Social Workers?

According to Anne McInerney, SSWAA President:  "School social workers often take the lead in coordinating the school’s grief response which includes working collaboratively with administrators and other school personnel. School Social Workers also work collaboratively with other Specialized Instructional Support Personnel in facilitating debriefing groups as well as other direct and indirect support services. As the vital link between the school, home and community, School Social Workers also provide a 'whole child' perspective since they are often familiar with issues the student may be experiencing at home and in the community that may also be impacting their response to loss."   

Rebecca Kunkel, Executive Director, noted: "In addition to working directly with students to process their grief, students experiencing recent family losses or mental health issues may need more direct support not only at school but may also need referrals to outside mental health providers or community resources. Since School Social Workers work closely with families as well as community resources, they play a key role in  facilitating acceptance of and access to those services."

What is the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, and what is its role in this initiative?

The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement serves as a national resource for schools in supporting students, staff and families at times of crisis and loss.  The Center is headed by Dr. David Schonfeld, a world-renowned expert in childhood bereavement, who has provided critical leadership and oversight of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, including the development of its educational web-based materials.  Dr. Schonfeld and his colleagues at the Center play an integral role in the ongoing activities of the Coalition, leading webinars and conference presentations for the Coalition’s participating organizations and providing expertise to the group.

Established in 2005, the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement was originally supported by the September 11th Children’s Fund and the National Philanthropic Trust, and is now funded by the New York Life Foundation.

How is the New York Life Foundation involved in this initiative?

The New York Life Foundation has long been focused on serving children in need, and in 2008, the Foundation expanded that focus to include an initiative to help children and their caregivers deal with a close personal death.  Since that time, the New York Life Foundation has worked tirelessly on behalf of grieving children, dedicating over $20 million to supporting this cause to date.

In 2013, the New York Life Foundation founded the Coalition to Support Grieving Student as one of its flagship initiatives to support grieving children.  With the recognition that it is imperative to reach grieving children at school, the Foundation convened professional leaders across the K-12 educational spectrum to participate in the groundbreaking efforts of the Coalition.  The Foundation underwrites all activities of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students and plays an active leadership role in the direction of the initiative.

Where can I go for more information/additional resources?

In addition to grievingstudents.org, the following resources may be beneficial to you as you look to support grieving students in your [school(s), district, etc.]:

A Child in Grief (New York Life Foundation)

National Bereavement Resource Guide (Guide to Resources/Centers/Grief Camps in Your Area)

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement

Children and Grief (Scholastic)

National Alliance for Grieving Children

When Families Grieve (Sesame Street)

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors)

AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)

SSWAA Website of Grief & Psychological First Aid Resources   

       See additional resources for SSWAA Members.

The families of your students may find these resources beneficial as well.

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