Wednesday, April 12, 2017

No Words

(Note: I wrote this blog entry a few weeks ago... but just didn't bring myself to share our experience from that week just yet. I think it's ok now. Thanks for reading.)

I don't have the words to describe last week.

It started with a random news alert that a plane had crashed in Riverside, California. It was a Monday. My wife and I had been discussing our challenging days at each of our middle schools. I quickly skimmed the news report of the place crash and slightly paused as I read that they were traveling back to San Jose. Weird, I thought, that's pretty close to where I work.

I then read a bit more about the story. The individuals on the plane had been at a cheerleading competition over the weekend. This was another odd coincidence; our two middle schools had just performed at a cheerleading competition. 

The news shared that the competition had been at Disneyland. Again, a weird coincidence. Our cheerleaders had just performed at Disneyland and had actually finished first out of seven teams. Perhaps there were other divisions or other teams who participated in the competition that I didn't know about. 

Then I received a text from our cheerleading coach. 

A bit of backstory on our cheerleading coach.

First, she's awesome. She "gets" kids. She's also our Mental Health Counselor at Union Middle. We're very lucky to have her on our site. As far as irreplaceable staff members go, she's definitely on that list.

She shared her beliefs on what had happened. That the crash may involve families from our school. That while she didn't have any facts, she was just as worried as I was. I asked her to repeat to me more than just a few times: None of our students were on the plane. All of our students came home on the bus. All of our students were safe.

Despite a flurry of false information from our new organizations, the picture started to become a bit clearer. Names of the victims were eventually confirmed. Based on what we heard, it became very clear, very quickly that two UMS families were going to need a lot of support from us and our community.

The following day at school was a challenge. Our district sent extra administrators and mental health services to our site for as long as we needed them to stay for the week. Our superintendent graciously sent breakfast and lunch for our staff. It was an "all hands on deck" type of day for our staff. We were all on the lookout for that student or students who may need support.

And it wasn't just students we were worried about. It was our staff too. The teacher who had all of the siblings in her class over the past few years. The other staff member who spent countless hours with the family, discussing how to best support their student. Or perhaps our mental health therapist herself, now having to serve as a mental health support for the students in need but also needing time to grieve herself.

For the most part, it was our cheerleading team who were struggling throughout the day, the week, the month... and rightfully so. Our cheerleading team is comprised of a very tight group of friends first, students second. They practice everyday. They hang out together. Most of their free time is spent with each other. These emotional events were not something we'd want any middle school student should have to endure. It was only with the support of our staff and each other that we were able to progress through the week.

More news about the tragic loss within our community spread on Wednesday. Our cheerleading coach and I reached out to the families throughout the week. Both affected families have former UMS students, all of which I spent lots of time working with during their UMS tenure. All of the kids involved are just flat out amazing. None of this seemed fair. It just doesn't seem fair.

We have a community who wants to help. Gofundme (included below) and meal support accounts were set up to support the families. Neighbors and friends have taken over car rides to school, homework help, and just a listening ear as students transition through these difficult times.

A week later, things still feel unsettled. The funerals for the family members are upcoming. I try to check in with the students myself every single day. When our eyes connect, I can see a level of sadness that no 11 year old should ever have to endure. I wish there is more I could do. I wish I had the words to help them.

But I don't.

I don't have the words to help.

Instead, I listen.

I offer my time, my heart, and everything else they need to help them get through the day.

If you want to join in and help as well, there are links below.

Take care of yourself and each other.


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