On March 19th, the Peirce Elementary School suffered an unimaginable loss. One of our teaching assistants, Alanna DeMella, had been killed over the weekend in a tragic accident. We started that morning in complete shock.
As the Peirce staff arrived, some were aware of the incident and arrived in varied states of shock and dismay. Others accepted the news with disbelief and overwhelming sadness. However, all were prepared to put their own grief aside and work toward helping the children through this difficult day.
By the time the students were arriving, administrators from all over the Arlington Public Schools were in the building. Special Education administrators Lori Villani and Chris Carlson were among the first to arrive, as were Superintendent Kathleen Bodie, and Cindy Bouvier, Director of Wellness. They immediately called in social workers from all schools, and the STARS team, a crisis response system composed of trained individuals from all over the state.
Once this team assembled, they sprang into action. Social workers went into classrooms in pairs to discuss the tragedy with students. The rest of the team initiated the Alert Now system to get the information out to the community.
After all the classrooms had been visited, several social workers stayed in the building, and the children were informed they had access to them for the rest of the day. STARS members provided counseling for staff members for the remainder of the day as well. Plans were made with The Children’s Room of Arlington to come to Peirce later that week to educate teachers and parents on how to help children, and adults, cope with the grief surrounding Alanna’s death.
As this was all happening inside the building, parent support was building all around us. We were receiving emails and phone calls offering support and sympathy. Other schools were doing the same, offering assistance in any way possible.
For the rest of the week, social workers were available to the students and teachers. Emotional support from parents and the larger community continued. Parents and other schools sent food, flowers, and condolences. The level of support from the Arlington community was outstanding.
Weeks later, we are still grappling with that loss. We are keeping a close eye on our children, watching for lingering signs of stress and anguish. As always, the children impress us with their resilience, and they are a great source of strength.
We still have people checking in on us, and social workers available to help children if needs arrive. For today and tomorrow, we continue to depend on each other’s support and kindness, which seems to be an inexhaustible resource in the community. The loss will always be here, but good memories are replacing hard ones, and we are moving on.