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New York Life Foundation grant helps EPISD students cope with grief

grief sensitive school

(EL PASO INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT -- Oct. 9, 2020) — The New York Life Foundation partnered with EPISD for its national Grief-Sensitive School Initiative grant to provide campuses with the tools to help students and families in traumatic times.

The initiative includes a $500 grant for each campus to be used to help deliver support to bereaved students and their families after completing the New York Life Foundation’s grief support presentation training. The Foundation’s grant investment in EPISD is expected to be approximately $40,000 once all campuses complete the necessary presentations.

“The Grief-Sensitive School Initiative is a nationwide initiative to provide education to our school communities on how to recognize children who may be grieving and provide tools and resources on how to deal with those situations,” said Patrick Hernandez-Cigarruista, a New York Life Insurance Company agent.  “I lost my dad when I was 4-years-old. I see how my bereavement affected me negatively. Through this program, I get to right my wrongs for giving teachers and administrators a hard time, so it’s very personal for me.”

Through the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative trained New York Life ambassadors connect with educators in their local communities to raise awareness and understanding of grief’s prevalence and impact among school-age children. 

Hernandez-Cigarruista has already begun making presentations to campuses and will continue until all campuses receive training. While he hopes to spread the information through to schools across the region, EPISD is the first area district committing to it districtwide.

“We're excited to expand this initiative throughout the region and grateful that EPISD has taken the lead in being the first district to enter into a memorandum of understanding so that the entire district strives to become a Grief Sensitive School,” Hernandez-Cigarruista said. “We've completed about 17 presentations which equates to $8,500 dollars in grants and hope to complete all 80 schools before Christmas break.”  

The District’s Counseling & Advising Department is already receiving positive feedback from the initiative, which comes with reminders of resources on websites such as grievingstudents.org and achildgiving.org. 

“Teachers and staff will be better prepared and understand the grieving process,” said Angelica Mata, Guillen Middle counselor. “Teachers will know how and what words to use with a student who is grieving. The faculty will also be able to build a culture of grieve support and better assist the school community with the tools and resources that are available.”  

Canyon Hills Middle counselor Kelly Morgan found the training especially important now during the pandemic. 

“Students are experiencing various forms of trauma and it is important for teachers and faculty to be able to recognize this and understand how to deal with these students,” Morgan said. “And it's not only students, our community has experienced and enormous amount of trauma from the August 2019 shooting and the after-effects are far-reaching. Then, to compound that, we are now experiencing a pandemic and many students have lost loved ones or are very afraid of loss. So many families have experienced trauma and loss in so many ways in our community. Knowing how to handle it in a student as well as how to cope themselves, is crucial.” 

Aoy Elementary counselor Elizabeth Tepsick recalls how Hernandez-Cigarruista discussed how grief isn’t just about when a student experiences a death in their family.

“We have students who have experienced grief when they have moved to the U.S. for a better life and left the rest of the family in another country,” she said. “They’ve experienced loss when the family unit has broken up through deportation or divorce. They have experienced loss when they have lost their homes or changed schools and lost their friends and teachers.”

Story by Reneé de Santos