Monday, October 17, 2016

How Are We? Please Don't Fade Away...

How Are We? Please Don’t Fade Away…

For the past eight days, it seems as though every other minute I am being asked, how are you? How are your students, faculty, and administration? Simply put, we are not well, but we will be ok. We are Harwood Strong.

Eight days ago our Harwood School Community received the tragic and unbelievable news that we had lost five wonderful, bright and talented Highlanders; Eli, Cyrus, Mary, Liam and Janie, in a senseless traffic accident. There are no words adequate to describe the loss of these students. Our grief and pain are felt deeply by everyone around the state because we all know that these five students could just as easily have been our sons and daughters, and that any one of our schools could be suffering this tragedy.

Immediately on Sunday, the Harwood Crisis Team went into action. We partnered with other professionals who offered help as well as local clergy and opened up the HUHS building on Sunday and Monday to all those needing to come. Monday, our crisis team gathered to plan for the opening of school on Tuesday. Nothing could have prepared us for this week. We remained steadfast in our mission to keep all students safe and supported, and the gut wrenching grieving continued. None of us really know what we are doing. There is no script, no plan for this. We keep putting one foot in front of the other, work hour to hour, day to day and week to week, as we mourn deeply with the families of these students and our communities.

Following the beautiful vigil on Monday, our students returned. We continue to provide individual and group counseling services, art therapy, service dogs, a dedicated memorial space where students can leave mementos and write special messages about their friends, several gathering spaces set up with food and other supports, assemblies, debriefings, and regular messages home to parents. We are taking our lead from our students. They are telling us what they need as they figure out what that is.

The path of healing we are traveling together will become a long road. By the time you read this, we will have attended at least four memorial services alongside our students, providing busing to each. I cannot begin to explain to you the pervasive, deep pain present every day in our building. I cannot begin to explain to you the immense courage, empathy, love and hope that accompanies that pain. 
Our students are remarkable. Their ability to openly share their feelings of grief and remembrances of their lost friends would blow you away. They exude maturity, wisdom, and compassion far beyond their years. You can be very, very proud of them.

You can also be very proud of the entire staff, faculty and administration at Harwood. I remain in awe of their strength, dedication and skill to help and support our students while they themselves are grieving. They inspire me and I admire them.

Our students, staff and administration are comforted and feel loved by the overwhelming generosity and kindness coming our way from other schools, businesses, individuals, and so many from around our beautiful state of Vermont. The numerous cards, flowers, food, gifts, and donations are sincerely appreciated and needed. You are lifting us up.  I would like to sincerely thank you all on behalf of all of us.

As we move forward, things continue to change day to day. We will continue to provide whatever support is necessary to take care of our kids.  Fortunately, with help from the Governor’s Office and the Agency of Human Services, we are able to bring on a Clinical Crisis and Recovery Coordinator and a Social Worker to support HUHS, funded by AHS. This will help us immensely.

Some of the other pieces we are working on are offering some other therapeutic options for students, such as trauma informed drumming, Tai Chi, Yoga, and other exercise opportunities. Staff from all the schools in WWSU are gathering and preparing written memories about all five of our lost students, which will be compiled into memory books for each of their families. Soon, parents will be invited to participate in a parent night focused on how to provide support for students struggling with grief.

Our students, along with the faculty and administration, are planning a Celebration of Life for Eli, Cyrus, Mary, Liam and Janie on Monday, October 24th from 6:00-8:00 at HUHS. More information will be coming, but I can tell you that event will be held in the gym, with live streaming into the auditorium. This will give us a capacity of about 2200. Parking will be limited at HUHS because staff and many students will already be parked there. We ask you to park at your local schools and businesses and we will provide busing from those locations.

Thank you for helping by walking on this healing path with us. No one would wish to be on this journey. All of us wish we could simply awaken from a very bad dream, but that isn’t possible. We need to remain each other’s soft place to fall. Often with tragedies of this magnitude, the outpouring of support naturally fades over time. Stay with us. Please don’t fade away. Our kids at Harwood and, due to the widespread ripple effect of this tragedy, in schools throughout the state, need us and they will for some time to come. We are Harwood Strong. Community Strong. Vermont Strong.