School support during and after a crisis
Posted on 04/17/2023
Mondays with Maria Banner



Dr. Maria Vazquez: Hello, I'm Maria Vazquez, Superintendent of Orange County Public Schools.

Nancy Alvarez: Hi everybody. I'm Nancy Alvarez.

Dr. Maria Vazquez: I've invited Lisa Coffey to join us today. Ms. Coffey is a nationally certified school psychologist. She is the Director of Social Services for Orange County Public Schools. She leads our grief and crisis teams when they assist schools in times of distress or trauma. As most of you know, we've seen some tragic events in our community over the few months that have greatly impacted our students, specifically at Pine Hills Elementary. You know, even one tragic event is a lot for a school to have to go through, but at Pine Hills Elementary, we've lost three children in just a few months, two of them to gun violence. I'm heartbroken. I'm angered by the senseless violence that continues to hurt innocent young lives in our community. My prayers and deepest sympathies go out to all of the families directly impacted. Nancy, you have been covering these events as they've been unfolding. You've also been doing stories for the district on all of the supports that we have that help our students, our staff, and our families.

Nancy Alvarez: Yeah, especially when it comes to mental health support, because that's so important and making sure that parents know what's available and what's out there for them. So, Ms. Coffey, I guess I'll ask you this question. I mean, I can't even imagine how staff and students at Pine Hills Elementary are doing these days after all of this.

Lisa Coffey: Yeah, it's been very difficult. These are hard situations to deal with, and when it's one after another, it becomes even more challenging. They are really working to lean on one another and build that social support within the community and building their own resiliency. It's been challenging. These are times that make us question the world around us and our safety, but together, they're really working to rebuild.

Dr. Maria Vazquez: So, Lisa, the support that's around our schools during these times is broad and deep. Our safe coordinators, our school psychologists, our social workers, and even our mental health counselors. Can you share what some of these wraparound supports are so that our viewers are aware?

Lisa Coffey: You're right. Our supports do run deep. Our student services team members are trained to support students in their general emotional well-being as well as in response to crisis situations like these that we've seen recently. They go into classrooms and do classroom presentations. They provide individual counseling and group counseling. During that time, they work with students to really listen, acknowledge the feelings, concerns, and worries that they have, help them understand what the facts are and dispel those rumors. And then teach them some coping strategies for managing themselves and their emotions, and give them opportunities to practice those skills so that when they're confronted with future possible, challenging situations, they can use those new skills to handle those.
And for those students that need additional supports, we, connect them to community resources and make referrals for counseling for those students.

Nancy Alvarez: We know so much happens in schools, but a lot has to happen at home too. Right. And for me, the biggest challenge as a mom. I always say, how do I explain things to my kids I can't even explain to myself? Because it's so awful when we see these events occur. So what advice do you have for parents? What can we do and how do we talk to our kids about this?

Lisa Coffey: Well, parents are our first teachers, and it's so important for them to be able to communicate with their, with their own children. And so listening to their children's questions and then answering in a really developmentally appropriate way, you don't need to give all the details to answer the questions. You just need to make sure that there's a broad understanding. Protect them from seeing too much on social media and in the news related to these topics. And then really utilizing their own social networks, their family, their friends, their faith, their interests, their hobbies to help build that resiliency in the home setting. Parents should watch for changes in emotional state and behavior in their children. And if they see changes in that or changes in sleeping patterns or eating patterns. That's the time that they should reach out for additional support and help.

Dr. Maria Vazquez: Lisa, even though these are incredibly difficult times, it's good to know that these supports are available in our schools for our students, our, our staff, and for our families. Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope this conversation has been helpful for our families. We are all in this together, and please know our schools are safe places where there's a lot of support. You should never hesitate to reach out. Thank you for watching. I'll see you next week.