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Sandy Hook students return, putting spotlight on need to help children cope (+video)

Counselors are at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but a survey finds that 93 percent of US teachers say they’ve never received training on how to support students who have lost a loved one.

Sandy Hook students return to school
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Mental-health counselors are just a few steps away if children are struggling as they start school Thursday at the new Sandy Hook Elementary School location.

But for thousands of students across America who have lost a loved one recently, help with grief is not so easy to come by.

About 7 out of 10 teachers report having a student who has lost a parent, guardian, sibling, or close friend in the past year, according to an early December survey by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the New York Life Foundation. Yet 93 percent of teachers say they’ve never received training on how to support bereaved students.

Many children “carry grief alone,” says David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement in Cincinnati, who is one of the survey authors. While teachers can’t be expected to be grief counselors, he says, “helping students understand how to cope with [loss] is a role schools can play.”

About 9 out of 10 teachers say there should be more training for educators to support grieving students.

They see the effects of grief on their students. Two-thirds of teachers say that students who have lost a parent or guardian experience a setback academically: Typically, they have difficulty concentrating and are absent from school more. Many teachers also observe these students becoming depressed, withdrawn, or angry, and about a third of teachers see increased behavioral problems.

Teachers that have received bereavement training are more likely to communicate with a parent or guardian, collaborate with other staff to help a grieving student, and refer students to community resources.

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