There are crises in our schools today that could not have been predicted a generation ago, mass shootings among them. Other tragedies such as vehicular accidents or other student deaths and traumatic events also affect students, school staff and many times the entire community.
The news is disheartening, but if there is a bright lining, it is the teams that have formed around the country that are ready to respond, guide and comfort at a moment’s notice, including in our area.
Susan Stangland of Morris is a leader of one such team. Assistant coordinator of the Kendall County School and Community Assistance Team, or SCAT, Stangland also volunteers and is a trainer with the NOVA National Response Team.
She responds personally to crises all over the area and the state, and is on call for national school emergencies.
One she’ll never forget was in 2016 when Shabbona Middle School math teacher Jan Wendling and her husband Mark, an Exelon engineer, were hit by a car and killed while they were riding bicycles.
It was a devastating event, but Stangland’s training and empathy helped heal a broken school and community.
More recently, she helped the Newark High School community following the death of a recent graduate. It was just before the holidays and was especially distressing.
She and the SCAT team met with staff and students, walked the halls, and made themselves available in various school locations for private conversations.
“We make ourselves available to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff ... We check everybody and their village,” she said.
After school that day, one teacher told her, “I didn’t think I could make it today, but when I came in and saw that we had the SCAT team here, and I knew that they were here to support the kids and to support me, I knew I could make it. Because I had a safety net.”
Stangland said that knowing her team helped someone get through that difficult day grabbed her heart. That is what make her work worth it, she said.
Stangland said she and her fellow SCAT volunteers know they are helping, but they have to remember to be gentle with themselves, as well. The situations they place themselves in can be gut-wrenching for them, too.
“It’s hard,” she said of being a responder. “I tell people at the training to know thyself. Know what can you take. And I’m learning to step back when I need to.”
She had to take a breather and turn down some requests during a period when her mother passed away.
“I couldn’t be on the front line,” she said. “I’m learning to refill my tank”
The volunteers also gather to debrief after each response. It helps them renew and gives them perspective.
Lynn Slavin, an Oswego School District 308 psychologist and Kendall County SCAT Coordinator, said most people don’t realize the effect of trauma on the brain, especially of children and teens. Trauma can affect sleep, relationships, being able to take care of oneself and can cause depression, she explained.
Children may not realize at first how the trauma is affecting them.
“We give validation to their feelings, and help them normalize it ... We help them learn how to move forward,” she said.
An example is to help students know what to expect when they return to their classrooms.
Slavin said her SCAT teams are made up of 75 volunteers from all areas of life, with expertise in various areas. They include teachers, counselors, coaches, pastors, nurses, retired firefighters, community members who speak different languages, and others who know they can be of help.
Slavin and Stangland are two of only 16 people in the country who are certified to teach the NOVA CRT class, Basic Crisis Response. Each of them has more than 1,000 hours of response time.
For information on SCAT or the NOVA National Response Team or for volunteer information, email email@example.com.