Originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of Equity & Access Pre K-12
Educational Service Agencies (ESAs) across the country provide various support and services for the school districts in their region. One of the most critical functions is Crisis response work that many ESAs engage in with their schools. Crisis response is essential to keep the educational setting stable and free from disturbance. Learning can only take place in a safe environment. AESA members ensure that educational environments are fortresses of safety, and acceptance has become an important service.
One such example is in the heart of Texas, where a team of professionals with experience in school leadership, counseling, mental health, safety, and communication has come together to respond whenever a call comes in after a devastating event or loss of life occurs. Crisis calls often confound the efforts of educators and interrupt the learning environment for students. They utilize specified tools, resources, and best practices from an arsenal of strategic responses to assist the impacted school district as they mitigate what is understandably a visceral and very personal response to a tragedy.
The National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA) protocols are useful for debriefing with small groups in most cases, and the After A Suicide Toolkit for Schools is also useful when warranted. Resources from the National Child, Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) for Psychological First Aid and the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) and other supports, chosen based on varying factors that impact each given situation.
Often, the collaboration is based not only on evidence but also on experience with crisis calls regarding human losses that range from accidents or terminal illnesses. On extremely rare occasions, the loss of a person may be to a homicide, but all too often, the loss is suffered when a student or teacher dies by suicide. The lessons learned from so many crisis interactions with districts in the region have resulted in stronger partnerships and relationships, knowing that caring for people is the heart of ESAs, the unified mission for all schools.
School districts in this region and across the country have come to utilize crisis response services to make critical decisions involving their response to media and consult how to address memorials. Consultation and support are provided to help schools structure the first day back on campus after a fatality, consider the resumption of class schedules and school events, and assist with referrals for affected students and staff. One school crisis response specialist has learned many lessons and leads this effort for seventy-six independent school districts and ten charter schools in the heart of Texas.
You can read more about the work of a Crisis Responder in The Tenets of Care: A Perspective from a School Crisis Responder by Jenipher Janek, M.Ed., LPC, Education Specialist III/Coordinator, Education Service Center Region 12.