As West Prince mourns the sudden death of a third Grade 12 student this week at Westisle Composite High School, support teams are in place to assist students, staff and families.
Loretta Hawley-McAleer, a school psychologist with the Public Schools Branch, said school counsellors, Public Schools Branch crisis response team members and student well-being team members – made up of clinical social workers, school psychologists, counselling consultants and school nurses – have been responding to support the students and staff and by extension the families since Sept. 17.
Alex Hutchinson, Max MacIsaac and Ethan Reilly, all 17, were on a boat that capsized on Sept. 16. Max swam to shore, but Alex and Ethan were unable to survive. Their bodies were recovered last week and celebrations of life and funerals are being held this week.
Then early Sunday morning, their classmate Cole Rayner, also 17, died as a result of a single-vehicle collision in Huntley.
“It’s pretty quiet (Monday),” Hawley-McAleer told The Guardian in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “The mood is solemn, of course, and people are grieving.
“Of course, they are grieving not only two but three tragic premature deaths of young people. That compounds the loss and grief that people are experiencing.”
Westisle is not holding any classes until Thursday at the earliest and counsellors will be available as long as they are needed, said Hawley-McAleer.
Hawley-McAleer said the strength of the West Prince community is its close ties and how much everyone cares for each other and supports one another.
“They are very, very connected,” said Hawley-McAleer. “That also means the impact is greater, too.
“Everybody here in West Prince feels the pain and tragedy and any loss is difficult for most people to come to terms with. But dealing with the sudden loss of young people is particularly challenging.”
Hawley-McAleer said counsellors offer support individually, work with student groups and also provide support guidance to teachers and other support staff.
Hawley-McAleer described attendance so far as quite low for that reason. She said some students have been helping each other by talking amongst themselves.
“Kids at this age will come together with their teammates, church groups and so on, but we continue to be here and encourage families to support their kids in coming back so that we can continue to support them,” she said.
More students expected
Hawley-McAleer expects to see more students back at school beginning on Friday following the three funerals.
“It’s really important that kids, families and anybody who is affected look for opportunities to find moments of peace and calm and even small moments of joy during these difficult times,” said Hawley-McAleer.
She said this can be done by taking a walk in nature, coming together with friends and talking about something else for a few minutes and even laughing at a comedy movie.
“Those things are really important and sometimes people feel that they don’t have permission to do that,” Hawley-McAleer said. “For some people, this is going to be quite a long process and (you need to) continue to take care of yourself and do healthy things like eating well, sleeping well, connecting with family and friends and watch out for each other.
“We continue to message to our families and staff to take care of themselves, take care of each other and let us know when we can be helpful and support because we are certainly available.”