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This Foundation Is Helping Grieving Students by Supporting Teacher Training and Grants

Megan Amrich headshotWords by Megan Amrich
Leadership & Transparency
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When tragedies like shootings, suicides or car accidents affect a school community, news reports often state, “Grief counselors will be on hand to help students."  What happens in the following weeks and months, though, after cameras and reporters leave? Or what about an equally upsetting loss that didn’t get covered in the media – the death of a child’s relative due to illness, for example?

This week, the New York Life Foundation launched the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI), a national program to help schools better support students in the aftermath of a loss.

“Although student tragedies and acts of violence strike our communities all too often, creating urgent concern around issues of death and grief at school, grief is an issue that educators encounter in the classroom every single day,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation.

The reality of grief in the classroom

More than 1 in 15 children will lose a parent or sibling before the age of 18, totaling more than 4 million children nationwide. Add children who have lost a loved one outside of the immediate family, and the number of grieving students at any given time is staggering.

Grief can have both short- and long-term consequences for students, including behavioral issues, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal, absenteeism and a decrease in academic performance:

But while 92 percent of educators say childhood grief is a “serious problem deserving more attention from schools," only 7 percent of teachers say they have had any type of bereavement training.

School is a critical place for children and teens to receive support and care, especially during a particularly vulnerable period in their lives. Teachers and school staff are often some of the most trusted and respected adults in students’ lives, so proper grief awareness training can make a significant difference.

How the Grief-Sensitive School Initiative works

The New York Life Foundation’s GSSI will provide assistance through two programs.

Hundreds of trained New York Life employees have visited or will visit schools in their own communities to share best practices, free online resources, and other grief support tools with teachers and staff.

Once a school completes this training, schools can take the pledge to become a Grief-Sensitive School, making them eligible to receive a grant from the New York Life Foundation to further their grief awareness efforts. Elementary, middle and high schools are all eligible for these grants.

More than 400 schools throughout 30 states have already received “Grief-Sensitive Schools” designation and grants, since New York Life Foundation piloted the program in 2016. The Foundation expects to reach more than 1,000 schools by the end of the 2018-19 school year through this initiative, distributing more than half a million dollars in grants.

The next phase of the GSSI – set to occur over the next three years – will expand the training to the regional and national levels through a partnership with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, directed by Dr. David Schonfeld.

“Our hope is to lay the groundwork for a significant shift in the level and quality of support grieving students receive at school,” said Dr. Schonfeld.

The issue of childhood grief: Aligning business objectives and social outreach

Through the Foundation’s focus on childhood bereavement, the New York Life organization has taken an often-overlooked issue directly related to the life insurance business and focused on the social aspects of families experiencing or preparing for major loss.

“New York Life’s commitment to grieving children and their families is woven into the fabric of our company, reinforcing our mission to provide financial security and peace of mind,” said Nesle in an interview with TriplePundit. “The strong alignment of the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative with New York Life’s core values and day-to-day business has created particularly robust engagement around the program – a true ‘win-win’ for our workforce and their local school communities.”

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Infographic credit: New York Life Foundation

Megan Amrich headshotMegan Amrich

Megan is a freelance writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. Her blog - chronicling her experience as a parent of a special needs child - will launch later this year

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