Does the Education System Hinder the Grieving Process?

Grief affects multitudes of people, through a variety of symptoms.  Here is a list of statistics about grief.

Crosswinds Counseling

Grief affects multitudes of people, through a variety of symptoms. Here is a list of statistics about grief.

Rhiannon Evans, Editor

Like many others in the past two years, I unfortunately experienced the grieving process. I had the displeasure of losing both my grandparents within three months of each other at the beginning of this school year. Unlike many adults, going through the grieving process while still in the education system makes this process ten times more difficult.

One can experience grief for many things, the loss or death of a loved one being the most common. However, other common causes of grief can be the loss of a pet, loss of a dream, breaking off a romantic relationship or friendship, or lost opportunities.

Tara Ketteringham, a counselor at Oakdale High School, explains, “When a person is grieving, there are areas of the brain that can be affected – especially those related to things like emotional regulation, memory, and learning.”

It is very common for people who are grieving to be easily overstimulated, overwhelmed, and struggle to remember things and retain information. With students in the grieving process and experiencing these side effects, it makes sense that school would become more difficult for them.

It was hard to focus on school, I had so much else going on in my head and with my family”

— Olivia Tehaan

Junior at Oakdale High School, Olivia Tehaan,commented on her grief experience: “it was hard to focus on school, I had so much else going on in my head and with my family.”

Junior at Oakdale, Hannah Ware, also commented, “Getting out of bed most days was a feat, so yeah, school wasn’t my priority”.

During my grieving process I felt very similar to Tehaan and Ware. With the amount of school I missed, it felt like I was getting hit with a tidal wave of make up work that needed to be completed when I returned. And although teachers offered a grace period, I felt like it didn’t even matter because the longer it took me to complete it, the more work that kept piling up, creating what seemed like a never ending cycle.

Not to mention different teachers handled my situation differently. While I had one teacher that let me work in the library during their class, another teacher had me make up a quiz, after missing the entire unit, the day upon my return. This proved to be difficult because not only was I not emotionally ready to come back to school one hundred percent, I wasn’t mentally ready to come back to school either.

It’s also very easy to believe the education system does not care about grieving students when you look at Frederick County Public School System’s (FCPS) Policies and Regulations. The only policies that mention student attendance are policies 430.4 and 430.5.

Policy 430.4 states that the only “Legitimate Reasons For Absence” are illness, as well as allowing for five days excsed absence if a student’s family chooses to go on a trip during the school year. Policy 430.5 goes over how students that are pregnant, or parents can work with the school system to continue to get the required credits in order to graduate.

FCPS’s policies do not state anywhere that an absence related to grief, such as the attending of a funeral, viewing, or simply time off to mourn with family, is an excused absence. In fact, grief, funerals, nor loss of a loved one are mentioned anywhere in the policies for students.

This begs the question, if so many students agree that school only hindered their grieving process, why doesn’t something change?

Right now our resources are stretched thin for support for students because of the pandemic.”

— Tara Ketteringham

We can’t put all of the blame on school staff. Ketteringham explains, “Right now our resources are stretched thin for support for students because of the pandemic. We currently have a lot of students who are struggling with mental health issues and adjusting to being in school all day every day again”.

She goes on to add that one thing the school system could do to aid not only the support staff, but also the students is to have “more staffing so that counselors could focus on supporting students in need”.

In the end, everyone just needs to have more empathy for each other. Staff need to realize that students could have a lot more going on than what they’re letting on. If a student is struggling, offering support could go a long way, even if it’s just letting them know they can come talk if needed.

On the other side of the coin, students also need to realize the staff is dealing with so many students in very similar situations and are doing the best they can with the resources they have.

The education system needs to change to ensure students are able to properly grieve. It’s not fair that students are expected to immediately come back to school and be able to put all of their effort and focus on schoolwork.