Holmwood coping well after fatal crash - counsellors

Published: Tuesday | December 17, 2013 Comments 0
Gospel artiste Omari ministers in song to more than 2,000 students during the LIME-led devotion at Holmwood High School, Manchester, recently. LIME executives visited the school to share encouragement and prayer following a fatal crash which took the lives of four students. - Contributed
Gospel artiste Omari ministers in song to more than 2,000 students during the LIME-led devotion at Holmwood High School, Manchester, recently. LIME executives visited the school to share encouragement and prayer following a fatal crash which took the lives of four students. - Contributed

MORE THAN 10 weeks after the tragic death of four Holmwood Technical High students, guidance counsellors say the school community, which is now on Christmas break, has been coping well.

"Healing is taking place ... they are doing very well," reports Lucetta Samuels-Hall, one of the guidance counsellors at Holmwood.

This positive assessment is due in large part to the quick and thorough response to the fatal traffic accident by a trauma management team under the supervision of the guidance and counselling officer at the Ministry of Education's regional office in Mandeville.

Samuels Hall, a crisis intervention team leader, was on her way to school when she received news of the crash along the Chudleigh main road in Manchester on September 25. This caused the school bus she was travelling in to detour.

"When I reached the foot of the hill, there was a student lying in the back of a pickup truck. I said 'not again'. I immediately went over to the (Percy Junor) Hospital and took control," the guidance counsellor recounted.

At the hospital, she provided the staff with information about the identity of students who were involved in the crash. Because the hospital was not equipped to treat that volume of accident victims, 44, some were placed on mattresses on the floor.

Shoulder to lean on

Martha Lecky-Hanson, guidance counsellor at Kendal All-Age School, on hearing of the traffic mishap, also went to the Percy Junor Hospital "to help in whatever way I could because the students needed a shoulder."

On receiving word of the accident, Rev Winston Nathan, another trauma management team leader in the Ministry of Education's crisis intervention network, pulled together a three-member team, including Venessa Nicholson Royal, his colleague at May Day High School, as well as a practicum student. They, too, set off for the Percy Junor Hospital to offer support to persons traumatised by the incident. Along the way, they picked up a parent who was crying because she did not know the fate of her child and transported her to the hospital.

"It was a very tragic situation, Holmwood being my alma mater. It was very emotional seeing the children in pain," recounted Nicholson Royal. "The hospital's staff members were not equipped for this, so we had to be nurses, counsellors, mothers and fathers."

Over the next several days, the trauma management and support team swelled to more than 20 persons who conducted expression sessions with all students, including visits to the homes of students injured or killed in the accident. At its peak, the trauma management team included several social workers provided by the Child Development Agency, and counsellors from Northern Caribbean University as well as the United Church. The team included Angella Davidson, Holmwood's dean of discipline; and Pearline Sharpe, a former guidance counsellor at the school. In addition, the Jamaica Public Service sponsored the services of child psychologists to treat students who were severely affected by the terrible incident.

"When the tragedy happens, you cannot counsel. You first provide a here-is-a-shoulder-you-can-lean-on attitude," explained Kennecy Haynes-Davidson, senior education officer in the Guidance and Counselling Unit at the Ministry's regional office in Mandeville. She said the process starts with allowing persons to recognise and accept what happened then moving them on to learning how to cope. They may then decide to do a session for expression, following which a determination is made about who needs counselling as distinct from motivation and offering support.

The senior education officer noted that while in the case of past critical incidents counselling was offered only to students, this time around, all categories of staff were placed in groups and afforded the opportunity to express their feelings.

She pointed out that the trauma management team recommended expression sessions for the principal, vice-principal and their families, as well as the guidance counsellor at Holmwood Technical.

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