With more than 200,000 COVID-related deaths nationwide since March, and with the knowledge from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study that the COVID infection rates are significantly higher in low-income neighborhoods, thousands of educators nationwide are struggling with how to best support the children they serve who are grieving—an issue that is ever-present in so many communities but even more prevalent right now.
In a May 2020 First Book survey of more than 2,600 educators working with children in need nationwide, 27% of respondents said they are personally having to provide mental and emotional health support for their students where they did not prior to COVID-19. With many students already dealing with challenges such as unstable home lives and unmet basic needs like food and clean clothes that prevent them from being present and “ready to learn,” 85% of educators are more concerned about their kids experiencing trauma or extreme stress during this time than they were before.
One respondent noted,
The kids in my class are currently dealing with sick family members, and family members who have already passed away. With one guidance counselor in the school, teachers are going to have to help them deal with some of this grief.
In fact, when it comes to grief support, many educators feel under-prepared to help—a recent study revealed that only 7% of classroom teachers have received any amount of bereavement training and 92% of them said childhood grief was a serious problem and deserved more attention from schools.
Eighty-one percent of educators surveyed by First Book reported wanting books to distribute to the children they serve, and 54% reported wanting resources that promote mental and emotional health during this time. For grieving students, books can serve as tools that help children process their grief. Books can help students feel less alone by showing characters who have experienced something similar. Depending on the content, they can also help students understand complex feelings, explain the facts and permanence of death, or even help students connect with memories of their deceased loved one.
For these reasons and more, First Book partnered with the New York Life Foundation to provide educators with access to free and low-cost books and educational resources through the First Book Marketplace—a critical resource for educators who often supplement much of their classroom supplies by spending an average of $500 out of their own pocket annually. Educators can check out the curated selection of titles available in the Grief, Loss and Healing section on the Marketplace, as well as the free guide, Using Books to Support Students Through Grief, Loss and Healing, offering concrete tips, strategies and steps you can take to support K-12 grieving students with the power of books.
Resources like these from First Book and New York Life encourage increased knowledge around and participation in the grief process on a systemic level and can serve as a jumping-off point to help grieving children show up ready to learn once again.