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Crisis Counselors Help Fern Creek Students Get Back To Normal

The team of 25 crisis counselors dispatched to Fern Creek High School following a shooting Tuesday are working to bring a sense of normal back to the school.The group is comprised of school counselors, school psychologists and social workers with special training to address crisis and traumatic situations within schools, said Michelle Sircy, the lead counselor for Jefferson County Public Schools.Sircy said the students at Fern Creek High are reaching out to the crisis counselors in high numbers.Sircy said anytime a traumatic event or a crisis situation arises at a school—be it the death of a teacher or student, a bus accident or a tragic event in the community—the crisis counselors are sent to schools.She said the district for “getting better” at utilizing crisis counselors.“Our district, as a whole, has gotten better at calling in and asking for additional supports to make sure we are meeting the individual needs of each student,” she said.The shooting on the third floor of Fern Creek Highwas the first school shooting in JCPS history.  Police have repeatedly assured parents, students and the community that the incident was “isolated” and praised the reaction from law enforcement and school employees.The incident left one student injured and another facing multiple charges. Related: JCPS, Police to Review Safety Plans Following District's First School Shooting“Kids just want to know that they are safe,” Sircy said.  “They want to know that they are safe in the school, they want to know they are safe in the community.”Students are reaching out for more than reassurances that they are safe. Sircy said they are also looking for a way to sway the community perspective of Fern Creek back to a positive light.“They are concerned that the community is going to look at Fern Creek differently, they feel like their school is now going to receive some negative attention that they don’t feel like they necessarily deserve,” Sircy said.But Sircy added it will take more than crisis counselors to calm concerns of students and help return normalcy back to a school community shaken by the shooting.Help also needs to come from outside of the school, from parents and community members, Sircy said.“Make time to talk to them,” she said.For parents, she said it’s important to look for signs that a child may want to open up a dialogue, but they may not know how to get the conversation started.And she stressed that parents should keep explanations of traumatic events “developmentally appropriate.”For high school students, she said ,it’s best to “empower them on safe schools and what they can do to emphasize their role in ensuring the environment is safe.”Also, Sircy said to limit television viewings of tragic events.“We know that can be very traumatizing,” she said.But it all goes back to regularity.“As a community and educators and people in our society, we need to help these kids return to a normal schedule, a regular schedule,” she said.Becoming a 'Crisis Counselor'Crisis counselors are JCPS employees.  They can be school counselors, school psychologists, social workers or school family resource center workers.The district has more than 250 trained crisis counselors, Sircy said.  In order to become trained in crisis counseling, district employees must participate in a two-day training, as well as an annual update session, she said.Following a traumatic event, the counselors will remain at a school until students stop requesting their services, Sircy said.“We have a solid team,” she said.  “If we were to have multiple crisis events in our community we have a strong enough team that we would be able to support several schools at the same time.”She added “we hope that never comes to fruition.”

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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