- Sponsorship -

Grieving together helps students cope with loss

The experience of grieving can be isolating at any age. Just ask Trista Kasul, a sixth-grader at Kelloggsville Middle School. Trista lost her grandfather when she was very young — preschool aged — but the loss weighed heavily on her. They had a special bond: She spent a lot of time with him when he was alive, and has spent a lot of time thinking about him since he died.

“I was more close to him than basically anyone else,” Trista said. “I am very proud of him. He was in the army and he fought for all of us.”

She grappled with sadness as a result of the loss, but Trista felt awkward sharing her feelings — until now.

Trista is one of eight students at Kelloggsville Middle School who recently completed a grief support program led by Ele’s Place, a healing center that brings grieving children and teens together. Through the hour-long sessions, which are held at schools over eight weeks, Trista found camaraderie with other group members, all of whom have lost someone.

The group has an important rule: What individuals share there, stays there, making it a safe space for discussion.

“It made me more comfortable talking about stuff like that,” Trista said. “Now, I have more people to talk to. I learned that you don’t have to be afraid to express your feelings. You can go to a friend, a parent, a teacher.”

Julie De Jong is the program director for Ele’s Place’s Grand Rapids program

No Child Should Grieve Alone

Ele’s Place, founded in Lansing in 1991, offers support groups for bereaved children and teens from ages 3 to 18 at its offices. The nonprofit has been in Grand Rapids since 2013 and launched its at-school programs during the 2015-2016 school year, with five schools participating. This year, there are 15 at-school groups, including schools in Kelloggsville, Thornapple-Kellogg, Cedar Springs, and Kentwood, to name a few.

“Our vision is that no child grieve alone,” said Julie De Jong, program director for the Grand Rapids location of Ele’s Place. “Being able to meet kids exactly where they’re at — at school — can be really powerful for them.”

Michelle Barrows, a counselor at Kelloggsville Middle School, brought the grief support program to the school after recognizing that several students had endured significant losses. Ele’s Place provides a student survey to allow students to self-identify when they are experiencing grief as a result of losing someone.

You’re eligible for the group no matter the type of loss, said De Jong, “As long as it’s the death of someone that you have a relationship with.”

De Jong said that many children experience grief but often it goes unnoticed. Going into schools is a way to support some of those students who might fly under the radar, she said.

Trista Kasul said that participating in a grief support program at Kelloggsville Middle School helped her to open up about the loss of her grandfather. She made the keychain she is holding during the program, and the colors symbolize grief, growth, and courage

Peer to Peer

The school groups are geared toward students in fourth through 12th grade and follow a peer support group model, facilitated by licensed counselors and social workers.

Amy Van Dorp, a licensed social worker, has facilitated at-school programs for Ele’s Place for three years.

“Each of the eight weeks, we have a theme,” she said. “The activities help kids understand grief, connect with each other, and learn ways to cope.”

Van Dorp said students who have participated in the groups have said they no longer feel like they are alone in their grief, they can talk more about their person who died, and that they have new ways to deal with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come with grief.

Barrows sat in on and participated with students in the group, facilitated by Van Dorp and co-facilitator Debra Roden. At the end of the session, she said, students were asked to describe in one word how they felt about their grief journey.

“I heard words like ‘peace’ and ‘calm,’” said Barrows.

It’s not only students noticing the value of peer grief support, said De Jong.

“Teachers are really seeing the benefit in us working with these children right now, while they’re being impacted by this grief,” she said. “Further along the line, they can be better academically, socially, and emotionally. Grief touches all areas of our life, and teachers definitely see the impact of this program for those kids.”


Lessons in how to handle grief take center stage at this elementary school

- Sponsorship -
Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza
Bridie Bereza hails from Lansing and has worked in the Grand Rapids area as a reporter, freelance writer, and communicator since graduating from Aquinas College in 2003. She feels privileged to cover West Michigan's public schools and hopes to shed a little light on the amazing things happening there through her reporting.


Students reopen fine-dining restaurant six months after closing its doors

GRCC’s The Heritage has reopened to the general public, with culinary students cooking, baking their way toward degrees...

Plotting for a plot

Students’ hand-drawn maps are meant for the safekeeping of memories and to spur ideas for when they write personal narratives...

Outdoor lover, zen seeker, middle-schooler hope-giver

Bill Cataldo is the new K-8 principal for Cedar Springs’ new Red Hawks Online virtual school this year. School News Network took some time to get to know him better in this edition of Meet Your Principal...

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...

Teacher and coach applies lessons in classroom and on field

New Kelloggsville head football coach Brandon Branch also teaches science and math at the high school and looks to bring academics and athletics together whenever he can...

Sports enthusiast, music fan, family man

He played three sports in high school and the bass trombone, and says when it comes to music, 'if it gets the blood pumpin, I could probably make it work'...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU