In less than a week, area school communities have been rocked by the deaths of four teachers.
The teachers were from Hamilton, Fairfield, Springboro and Summit Academy of Southwest Ohio schools. The three women and one man range in ages 36 to 65.
- On Thursday Nov. 11, the death of Hamilton Wilson Middle School science teacher Jennifer Williams, 55, was announced with no cause publicly released by her family.
- Then on Friday, less than 24 hours later, Fairfield school officials announced high school chemistry teacher - and assistant coach for the school’s student academic team - Bryan Walters, 50, had died during a planned surgery two days earlier.
- On Monday, Springboro school officials said veteran vocal music director Beth Jamison, 65, died with no cause publicized by family. Jamison had been with the district since 1989.
- Also on Monday news of schools teacher Elizabeth Nicole Potter’s death was announced, also with no cause provided. Potter, who was a teacher at Summit Academy of Southwest Ohio in Harrison, was 36 years old and a former teacher at Hamilton’s Colonial Preparatory Academy.
School officials said with teachers and students already burdened by pandemic stress, the loss of beloved instructors cuts deeper.
“In our school district, we often talk about how we are one big family,” said Billy Smith, superintendent of Fairfield schools and a former principal of the district’s high school.“Losing a loved one is never easy, which is why it is so important for all of us to be there for each other when we are hurting."
Miami University’s Associate Dean of the graduate school and professor of educational psychology, Amity Noltemeyer, said “the death of a teacher is tragic and can be devastating for all in the school community, including students.”
And during a pandemic,”when students face multiple stressors or challenging circumstances, it can become even more important to connect with them and build their capacity for resilience.”
“It is important for children to feel safe, secure, and connected,” said Noltemeyer. “A death of someone they care about can challenge those feelings, and the conditions of the pandemic could too in different ways.”
Schools, which for years have employed a standard response of deploying grief counselors to students, staffers and school families, should be prepared for a multitude of variations exhibited by those grieving, she said.
“Grieving is a process and can look different for every child,” said Noltemeyer, who is also editor in chief of “School Psychology International. “Caregivers and school staff should be prepared for a range of grief reactions, which may vary based on factors including a student’s developmental level, prior experiences, relationship to the teacher and personal characteristics.”
Smith echoed the need for a flexible and vigilant approach, adding the emotional processing of a death comes in various speeds for each individual.
“It is also important to remember that people are often at different stages of the grieving process at different times, and that is okay," Smith said. "As a school district, we want to be supportive for our students, family members, and staff members, regardless of where they are in the process."