Coping with death – the death of a student, a student’s parent or sibling, a teacher or staff member – is an unfortunate reality for school communities. According to Judi’s House/JAG Institute’s 2020 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM) results, 1 in 15 children in Illinois will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18. Children and teens whose grief goes unattended, are often at risk – emotionally, physically, socially and academically.
Willow House school-based programs are designed to provide school personnel with the understanding and the tools they need to effectively support grieving students. Willow House has a long history of responding to schools needing immediate crisis intervention, serving over 98 Chicago area schools in the 2018-19 school year alone.
As advocates for grieving children and teens, we believe that students are best served when schools are proactive in their efforts to educate staff about the needs of grieving children and teens. Schools can be a natural and comfortable setting for students in need. Well-informed teachers and school personnel can be an important source of support.
During this program, qualified Willow House clinician(s) will provide a structured 8 Week Grief Group Curriculum and will work collaboratively with a clinician from your school to support a group of grieving students. School clinicians will feel empowered by taking part in this opportunity as they further their knowledge in dealing with grief related issues. Topics covered throughout the group may include grief education, identifying and expressing emotions, developing coping strategies, telling their story, recognizing and commemorating special days, preserving memories of the person who has died, while decreasing the feeling of isolation and building connections with those around the student.
A qualified Willow House staff member(s) will provide students at your school with an educational opportunity to enhance knowledge and understanding pertaining to issues concerning grief and loss. This will help “normalize” what goes on during the grief process and increase understanding and empathy for other grieving students. This service is usually provided during a health class or a P.E period.
An opportunity for teachers, school clinicians, staff members and community workers who are interested in furthering their understanding of what grieving individuals are going through and how to better support them through this difficult, ongoing process. This informative, educational opportunity can be conducted throughout the lunch schedule for staff members during the day or during an in-service time.
The Willow House School Program encompasses a variety of opportunities for administrators, teachers and school staff to advocate for grieving students immediately in the school setting. Willow House has developed a reputation in the greater Chicago-land area, answering the call to provide immediate and long-term services in the event of critical incidents. Crisis intervention may address questions such as, “How do we deal with this community crisis?” or “How do we help our children cope with this crisis?” Unfortunately, our culture may have a difficult time supporting the needs of grieving students and families. Our goal is to educate and empower school staff to guide the grieving student or community.
Willow House also offers a full range of consulting services for those who seek more comprehensive information. Some examples include:
- Education consultation
- In-services and workshops for school staff following the death or anticipatory deaths within the school
- Provision of resources and educational materials
- Referrals to other mental health professionals when necessary
Willow House would not be possible without the individual members of the Willow House community that allow us to make a difference. We would love to share the work that Mindy Waxman has accomplished in her role as the Willow House Clinical Site Coordinator and School Program Clinician. School social workers recalled their experience working with Willow House during their 8 Week In-School Support Groups:
“I am a Social Worker at Waukegan High School – Brookside Campus. During 2nd Semester this year, I had the pleasure to work with Mindy Waxman from Willow House as she facilitated the Grief Support Program during the school day. Our group consisted of 9 students who lost a loved one in their immediate family (7 parents, 1 grandparent and 1 brother). The group was held on a rotating period every Friday for 8 weeks. Mindy was very flexible with our scheduling needs as she understood the importance of rotating periods so students did not miss the same academic class. Mindy was always well prepared for the sessions and provided all the materials (i.e. worksheets, color pencils, etc.) which was extremely helpful to me.
The Grief Support Program from Willow House provided our students the opportunity to work through their grief in a safe environment with other students. Though many of them did not know each other at the start, I can confidently say many positive relationships were formed during the 8 weeks. Students expressed themselves more and more each session as their comfort level increased. During the last session, all the students asked if we can form this group again next year.
As a Social Worker at a large urban high school with several needs, it was incredibly helpful to have the Grief Support Group from Willow House. Often times, my days are filled with crisis intervention and Special Education responsibilities. This unfortunately limits the amount of time I have available to support students who are dealing with personal issues but not necessarily acting out at school. The partnership with Willow House provides the students consistent emotional support needed to cope with such a sensitive topic, grief and loss. I would recommend Willow House as a great addition to any mental health support system in a school environment. I look forward to working with Willow House again next year and providing support to another group of students.”
Social Worker, Waukegan High School – Brookside Campus
“Working with Mindy Waxman from Willow House has been one of the best experiences I have had in my 5 years as a counselor. She was consistently organized, on time, positive and a tremendous influence for the students in our group. The activities that she provided were pointed and useful, and I was able to witness the growth and change in our students through the weeks that we worked together. Many of the students were apprehensive when the group began and struggled to open up about their grief, one in particular had not spoken about the death of their father at all.
By the end of the group every student was relaxed, open, honest and grateful for the time that they spent together. I am immensely grateful not only for Mindy’s support of our students, but also for what I learned by using the curriculum with her as I am better prepared to assist my students as they work through their grief. Willow House is an amazing resource and I look forward to any possibility of working with this group again.”
School Counselor, Mundelein High School
“We had the pleasure of working with Willow House at Grayslake North High School. Mrs. Deacon and I have been running a grief group for the last 5 years and we felt we learned so much from Willow House. Mindy co-facilitated the group with us and the students really enjoyed having her. I felt the program was very beneficial to students because they all stated that they don’t get opportunities to talk about their feelings and about their loved one that has passed away. Being a part of Willow house really made them see that it is ok to express their feelings. When a student is grieving it impacts all areas of their life, and being in a grief group provides them with different coping mechanisms that they can use for the rest of their lives. I hope to continue to work with Willow house in the future and I can honestly say that it has been a great experience working with Mindy and Willow House.”
Guidance Counselor, Grayslake North High School