• Svetlana Shkolnikova

Paramus school bus crash: Helping children cope with trauma and tragedy

East Brook Middle School was a place of quiet on Friday.

There was a quiet room, “a safe space,” for students to regroup, another quiet room for staff to collect themselves or just sit and talk. There were extra counselors on hand for those who needed them.

The support system for schools dealing with tragedy comes together quickly. In particularly traumatic events that involve the unexpected death of a student or teacher, the support continues for some time, said Maureen Brogan, the statewide coordinator for the Traumatic Loss Coalition for Youth, a network of professionals trained in school trauma response.

“For many children, this may be the first time they’ve encountered death of any kind,” Brogan said. “There’s an element of innocence where they don’t think these things happen. When it does, it kind of shatters their assumptions that they’re safe in this world. You want to afford students an opportunity to stabilize their emotions.”

The coalition, a program of Rutgers University, has been dispatched to help the Paramus middle school cope with the fatal school bus crash that killed a fifth-grade girl and teacher on Thursday, Alicia D’Alessandro, a spokeswoman for Bergen County confirmed Friday.

The county often reaches out to the group to determine where additional mental health specialists should be sent, she said.

The tactics the coalition uses to counsel students offer insight into how adults — whether parents or not — can help children cope.

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