Lessons will focus on the physical, emotional and behavioral signs of grief and will be included in the standards for health and PE, according to K-12 Dive.
New Jersey public school students in grades 8-12 will receive lessons on the topics mentioned above and also coping mechanisms for handling loss, under a bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The grief instruction will be integrated into the New Jersey Student Learning Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education. The state department of education will be required to provide school districts with age-appropriate resources concerning grief.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought more awareness to the need to support students and staff who are grieving. Students in this situation can experience decreased appetite and may withdraw socially, according to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
In New Jersey, 1 of 13 children is expected to experience the death of a parent or sibling before age 18, said Lindsay Cullinan Schambach, executive director of Imagine, in a statement. The New Jersey-based nonprofit helps support children and families coping with loss and was part of the inspiration for the bill, according to Sen. Jon Bramnick, a prime sponsor of the bill.
More than 140,000 children in the U.S. lost a primary or secondary caregiver during the first year of the pandemic, according to a study published in Pediatrics in December 2021.
According to the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a nonprofit collaboration of school professional organizations, educators can play a vital role in helping students process and cope with grief, including simply by being present and attentive to grieving students as they express their feelings.
Other approaches educators can take, according to the coalition and NASP, include:
- Help younger students understand what has happened and provide skills and resources to cope.
- Provide support to older students over time, remaining available and inviting them to talk when they’re ready.
- Be a listener and acknowledge students’ feelings.
- Reach out to parents or caregivers to express support and relay how the student is doing in school.
- Be sensitive to each student’s experience. There is no one right way to respond to a loss. Feelings of grief and behaviors will vary across students and will change throughout the bereavement process.
- Do not pressure students to talk; but do provide them options for expressing grief.
- Help grieving students find a peer support group.
- Share information about grief with the bereaved student’s classmates and discuss the importance of being understanding and sensitive.