JP Kids: How BPS responded to students’ bomb trauma

April 26, 2013
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By Rebeca Oliveira and Peter Shanley, Gazette Staff

Whether they were near or far from the scene, Boston’s children felt the trauma of the Boston Marathon bombing, which counted an 8-year-old Dorchester boy among the dead. The bombing happened during the Boston Public Schools (BPS) vacation week, leaving some students wondering about their classmates’ safety, and giving BPS a big coping task for April 22, the day classes resumed.

That day, the Gazette spoke with BPS behavior health director to see what students needed. Dan Chu, the student representative on the Boston School Committee, also shared his experience.

Andria Amado, BPS’s director of behavioral health services, declined to comment on what happened at specific Jamaica Plain schools. But, she said, common themes Amado and her team had heard from kids on their first day back at school included worrying about their safety, their families’ safety and what might happen next.

“Sometimes they’ll be focused on very specific things, like whether their soccer game will still be on. Some kids wonder what happens when you die, what happens at a funeral,” she said.

Crucially, Amado said, “It’s a matter of sharing facts [with children] at a developmentally appropriate level”—that is, in a way kids can understand and process.

Chu, a senior at Dorchester’s Boston Latin Academy, said students there talked a lot about the safety of friends and staff—a guidance counselor there ran in the marathon, escaping unscathed—and speculated on the fate of the bombing defendant.

“Almost everyone had a story about how they could not get in contact with a specific person over break and how much stress not being able to contact said person caused,” said Chu in an email.

BPS Director of Behavioral Health Services Andria Amado spoke to the Gazette about some of the steps and resources deployed by BPS to support kids as they came back from a tempestuous vacation week.

BPS had a district-wide deployment of psychologists and other support staff, including community partners, as was the case this week, Amado said.

Every single BPS school and some charter schools had, at the very least, a psychologist come in to offer additional support to students, teachers and administrators. Some schools had larger teams that may have included members of the police department (BPD) or other mental health care professionals, Amado said.

“We’ve been triaging those [schools] and increasing support where we needed to,” she said. “We blended our school-based staff with our outside partners to create a pretty comprehensive response.”

Amado said it’s very important to realize that kids, like adults, may handle crises differently.

“Some kids might prefer working on an art project to help them cope, others might want to play football. Both are valid,” she said.

But many children going into school this week already had conversations with parents and other trusted adults and had some time to cope with the bombings.

Like adults, about 80 percent of children will recover from a crisis completely even without any intervention, Amado said.

“We’re here for that [other] 20 percent,” she said. BPS will keep monitoring kids to make sure they are recovering. “Our focus is to return to a normal state,” Amado added.

Amado and her team are directing children to focus on the positive aspects of the tragedy: the first responders, teachers and other adults that help kids feel safe, and what kids can do to help.

“People like action when something happens. People can support each other. The One Fund is a place where we’re directing people,” she said.

The One Fund is a fund set up by Mayor Thomas Menino and Gov. Deval Patrick to help bombing victims. Its website is onefundboston.org.

BPS staff can be trained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the FBI, and the National Association of School Psychologists and receive special training in psychological first aid, she said.

“We are proud of the team we have,” Amado said. “Many came in from vacation to support the schools. We have a very committed staff that puts the needs of the kids first.”

BPS’s community partners, aside from BPD, include the Boston Public Health Commission and Boston Children’s Hospital, Amado said.

“Even though a terrible thing has happened to our city, we have things under control and are grateful for all the support we’ve received,” Amado said.

Amado also recommended the National Association of School Psychologists’ website for parents and other adults who might need more resources to help a troubled child. That website is nasponline.org.