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OSU students help Stillwater Junior High School through tragedy

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
November 5, 2012

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When an eighth grader at Stillwater Junior High School took his life on a late September morning, it shook a routine Wednesday to the core. Police first secured the school, then parents hustled to make sure their kids were okay. Stillwater Public Schools quickly put counselors in place to help students talk through their feelings. But they couldn’t do it alone. One of the groups helping out came from Oklahoma State University…

“And then just a silence for about three seconds, and then I kinda looked over to see what it was, and I saw a body on the ground, with blood lying everywhere, and I just started running.”

This was right after the shooting. After hearing what happened, OSU’s Julie Koch reached out to Stillwater schools. How much help would they need? By Thursday, Koch’s students from the counseling psychology doctoral program were in the school.

“When the bell rang, the number of students who came in, I mean within 5 minutes, I think we were hit with 40 students who came in. I immediately got on my phone and into email and said we need more help now.”

The school’s computer lab room replaced the typical couch and chair of a counselor’s office. And sessions spilled into the wrestling room too. Groups clustered in corners, as the combed through their emotional storm.

Marissa Moore works as a graduate assistant at OSU, and was in the school the day after.

“I took the bus in the morning that he usually would take. He didn’t take it every day, but it was the bus route.”

She has years of training in the field, at OSU’s Counseling Services, and with juvenile delinquents in Payne County. This, though, eluded comparisons.

“Because it’s like 6:30 in the morning, pitch black out, and I’m sitting on a bus with kids who literally rode the bus with him. And these kids were from middle school to junior to high school. I remember a lot of confusion and a lot of anger.”

OSU and Stillwater schools also teamed up to have counselors follow along with Cade’s schedule throughout the day, filling up an empty seat. They even met with teachers before school to prepare them for questions. Gay Washington is an Assistant Superintendent for Stillwater…

“We certainly have trained counselors in our district, but we’re not a large school district. And we did use some of our secondary counselors, but there is absolutely no way we could have addressed the needs.”

For the trained professionals, such an event can be stressful and exhausting. Dr. Koch, from OSU, had worked at a school where a student was killed in a car crash. But she says the suicide impacted so many more people.

“Not only did the child commit suicide but he did it in the presence of other kids who witnessed it. And then there were those who maybe heard the gunshot but didn’t know what was going on and thought a shooter was in the school, and they’re traumatized by that. And then of course, there were his friends, and his family, he had family at the school.”

More than fifteen students and professors pitched in the two days after Cade’s suicide. They aren’t needed anymore, but those two days will always stick out, and give them something to turn to in difficult moments as counselors.

“Being able to think on my feet, on my own, kind of right in the action, I think that was a really good experience to have so I do think that helped.”

Through all of this, one OSU student is still in the hallways every Wednesday.

Sarah Sadler, a graduate student at OSU, had never before counseled children, instead sticking with the 18 plus set on OSU’s campus. But now she’s taking weekly trips to the school nestled in northeast Stillwater.

“I think you see both cases. Some students are kind of at the point where they’re ready to move on and they don’t really want to talk about it anymore. Other people have other situations going on in their lives that also kind of influence how they’re dealing with tragedy there.”

She’ll sit in a classroom, one on one with whoever needs the help.

“I think I was surprised at how much they really can be in touch with their emotions and feelings. They might not have the best way to express it, or not know what they’re feeling, but they are little people, they experience just like all of us do.”

Sarah says the sessions will continue at least until the end of this year, then they’ll re-evaluate. She soon wants to bring her students together to create group sessions, and get them talking each other through the tragedy.

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