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Tidewell helps students handle grief

MANATEE -- Tidewell Grief Education and Support Center and the Manatee County School District have partnered for years to help students navigate through layers of grief and trauma.

Now that relationship stands to be enhanced.

The Lakewood Ranch Community Fund has awarded $3,000 to Tidewell’s grief center. The grant will be used to help parents recognize when children are showing warning signs of not handling grief well.

“The fear we have is that if students don’t have an opportunity for some honest talk, later down the road, they act out,” said Ginny Chappelear, the center’s administrative director.

Grief education helps students in their time of need. To do its job, Tidewell relies on grant dollars and donations.

In 2010-11, Tidewell’s grief center counseled 1,402 students in Sarasota County schools following seven student and two teacher deaths. During that same time, counselors visited and counseled 176 students in Manatee County Schools after three student and two teacher deaths.

“Our theory is if you don’t deal with it, you’re going to have more disruption,” Chappelear said. “Our goal has been to work with the school districts and educate and help them support the students.”

Tidewell was called in during the recent death of 17-year-old Kristina Konovalov. She died after fleeing from a car crash.

“We’re still working with those students,” Chappelear said.

Grief specialists were also called in when a Booker High School student hanged herself and later died.

“We’re doing a lot. It’s just quiet,” Chappelear said.

In Manatee County, Tidewell grief specialists went to Manatee School For the Arts when teacher Kenneth Ellis was shot in late March.

“What they did for us was great,” said Linda Evans, dean of administrative services at Manatee School For the Arts. “Being in education, you have to be concerned about the long-term effects of the students.”

Pat Bernhart, the district’s student services supervisor, said the district initiates the first step when incidents such as Ellis’ death take place. A team of school employees stabilizes the situation. Then Tidewell specialists are usually called.

Evans said Grief Specialist Jim McMillan offered extended counseling.

“He came for as long as necessary,” she said.

McMillan was assigned to Manatee School For the Arts about two weeks after a memorial ceremony for Ellis.

“Some of the kids had not fully gotten back to their routine,” McMillan said. “To many students he was more than a teacher. They lost a father-figure, a grandfather figure.”

Now the students seem to be managing their grief, McMillan said.

Evans agreed. She recently spoke with two students who believed the key to managing that grief came from McMillan.

“The kids really liked him. They found him easy to relate to, she said.

McMillan said he just gave the students the time they needed.

“Grief is a process,” McMillan said, “It’s not something we’re used to setting a time limit on.”

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