WASHINGTON — On the first day back to class after a Howard High School student was killed, counselors were on hand to help students deal with their grief and fears.
Dr. Cynthia Schulmeyer, who coordinates school psychology services for Howard County Public Schools, says crisis teams were available at the elementary and middle schools that feed into Howard High School as well after the Jan. 1 death of Charlotte Zaremba. Schulmeyer says typically students have lots of questions, and want an opportunity to get information about what happened to their classmate.
Charlotte, 16, died after she was attacked in her Ellicott City home. Police say 52-year-old Suzanne Zaremba heard a scuffle about 2 a.m. Sunday in her daughter’s bedroom, went in and saw a male in the room. Police said he shot Suzanne and Charlotte Zaremba, then himself. Suzanne and the gunman were both injured.
For students close to the classmate who died, Schulmeyer says there may be a need to get information. They will ask what happened, and why, says Schulmeyer.
“… Typically the other thing that we find students want to do, is that they want to talk about the person. They want to talk about things that they liked to do together, fun times that they had, maybe sports teams that they played on together.”
Some students may be upset, but reluctant to share their feelings at school or in large groups. Schulmeyer emphasizes the approach by counselors varies depending on the age group, but says for example, for younger children struggling with their emotions, school counselors may let them draw, and talk about what it is they’re doing. That can allow a child to express their feelings in a way that’s more comfortable.
Schulmeyer says parents should not expect the questions or grieving that children experience to evaporate overnight. Students may attend vigils or funeral services for their late friend, and Schulmeyer says each step in the grief process can generate new emotions or questions. Her advice: be available.
“Listen to what they have to say. Listen to them talk about their concerns or their fears,” she said.
And she added parents should feel free to share their own sentiments.
“That also becomes an opportunity for parents to model what are their beliefs around death in their family.”