By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 10, 2019 | 1:45 p.m.
DINWIDDIE – The last several months have been difficult for the entire county and particularly Dinwiddie High School following the deaths of young students that have left families and friends reeling from their losses and rallying to support those mourning, with Dinwiddie County Public School working to ensure all available resources are available those in need of that support.
In January, two Dinwiddie High School students, Dakota Reid and Donovan Kendus died in separate automobile accidents only weeks apart.
The young men’s deaths come only months after the death of another Dinwiddie High School student, Ke’Asia Adkins, who was kidnapped from her U.S. Route 1 home in late June of last year, with her body later being found in a wooded area behind her home, an outcome that many prayed wouldn’t happen as family, friends, and fellow classmates helped search for the teenager and well-liked cheerleader.
In each instance, even when school is out of session, school administrators were prepared to offer services to help students, teachers and anyone within the school ecosystem with the resources to cope with and make sense of the tragedies that had occurred.
“There is a plan in place,” Dinwiddie County School Superintendent Dr. Kari Weston explained, “there are personnel and resources identified for every situation you can think of and there are protocols for those but, at the end of the day, our biggest thing is making sure everyone knows who the resources and go-to personnel are and making sure we take care of the kids in our care and our staff.”
According to school officials, each school has crisis teams, which, at the school level, are traditionally made up of individuals like the school nurse, guidance counselors, an administrator, and one to two teachers in an effort to represent a cross-section of the individual school and their voice. Those individuals are identified during the school division’s downtime in the summer, where training and other activities to prepare for a possible crisis occur.
When they do occur, those school-level teams are activated and provide the resources needed depending on the situation. As they work to support students, teachers, and staff members, they also remain in close concert with central office leadership, holding meetings and discussing their response and ways to improve in the future, allowing their crisis response plans to be as dynamic as possible.
“We met [last week] with the high school administration and we just like to de-brief to talk about things when they happened and did we do everything we should have done,” Christie Clark, Director of School & Community Relations for DCPS said. “Each of these were tragedies and we are dealing with people’s feelings and everyone responds differently. So, it also makes us think what do we need to do next.”
To that end, following the deaths of Reid and Kendus, who, according to Virginia State Police, did not appear to have been wearing their seatbelts at the time of the separate fatal crashes, school officials are working to drive home the importance of seat belt usage to the high school’s student-driver population.
“We have a driver’s education program that we run in the school so there are some things we can do on our end to be proactive to make certain that we are working with our students,” Weston said.
“We also have been talking with the lead driver’s education teacher and we are looking at a couple of different programs – one for the entire school aimed at safety in general and then things geared toward drivers,” Clarke added. “We realize this is not just a student problem as we have seen in the community people aren’t wearing their seatbelts so the more we outreach we can do about that, they want to be able to do that.”
In addition, Clarke said teachers are interested in starting seatbelt checks in the parking lot of the school geared at reminding young drivers the importance of buckling in every trip, no matter how short the trip to the destination is but she and Weston both recognize this goes beyond seatbelts and is centered around providing support for member groups of Dinwiddie Schools – students, teachers, administrator, and support staff.
“Just like with any situation, we plan for it and consult our guidebook to help with our response but de-briefing is so important because we can look back at what happened, what did we expect to happen, what happened and why, and how do we do better the next time,” Weston said.
The conversation of student care in the face of tragedy isn’t just taking place in the halls of Dinwiddie schools, it’s spanning the county and finding its way into living rooms, kitchens, and even church congregations. Entering its second year, the county and school division’s joint faith-based advisory council met and, according to Weston, dealing with grief among young people was one of the topics during last week’s meeting.
“We always start the meeting by talking about what is on their minds and the minds of their congregations and that was something that was on their minds, young people and grieving,” Weston shared. “It was timely to be able to tap into that resource and talk to them about what their young people were saying from their churches and then also for them to say, ‘Here is what we would like to do to be a part of that process.’ They are certainly a resource that, through every interaction, we are finding to be so valuable to our work.”
At the end of the day, for Weston, Clarke, and everyone who works inside the county’s roughly half-dozen schools, it is all about care – caring for those students, teachers, and support staff in any ways they need while also adapting and learning to be prepared for the next tragedy, which everyone hopes is a plan that doesn’t need to be carried out.
“We are a community and in times like this, it takes each and every one of us working together collectively and keeping the community part in mind to work to the best of our ability to address whatever comes our way,” Weston said. “We also want to make certain that we are taking each opportunity to learn and be better servants and leaders in this community moving forward and that is something we are dedicated to.”