Dear KIBSD Family,
We are deeply saddened to hear today’s report confirming the death of our student Sawyer Cippola. Words feel hollow and empty in the face of such a tragedy as this. For over a week, our community has stood united, collectively holding hope for a better outcome. Now, our hearts break, especially for his family and friends who feel his loss most profoundly. Our hearts ache for all who knew him and were fortunate to know his bright smile.
We know that people respond to tragedy and grief in different ways. In the coming days and weeks, we expect and understand that there will be a wide range of emotions in response to this tragedy which may include shock, sadness, numbness, and confusion. The most important thing we can do is to be supportive and to encourage an open expression of feelings, holding a safe, caring space for each other to navigate through them.
In our schools, we will continue to focus on helping our students and their families in every way possible, with the support and advice of mental health professionals. Our district counseling team will continue to be available to students who need support or someone to talk to, keeping a close watch for those who are struggling. Our staff will continue to maintain as much routine and structure as possible to keep our students feeling safe and secure. We encourage you at home to do the same, while providing opportunities for your children to share memories, talk openly, and share their feelings. The attached letter may be helpful in talking to your student about this event and helping them to process their grief. The counseling website also has been updated with resources to help: https://www.kibsd.org/counseling/
Just as our community stood together in hope and in the search, we must now stand together to mourn and grieve the loss of this sweet boy who is gone too soon. Let us continue to show up for one another the way that we have shown up for Sawyer. We can keep his memory alive in continuing to reach out to support each other, proving again that no one is alone and that every child is deeply loved and valued in this community.
During the community service yesterday, the parents wanted me to express their thanks to all those who helped join in the search efforts and who supported their son, both in school and out of school. We know you join us as we hold them close in our thoughts, sending our deepest sympathies.
Responding to Grieving Children
The recent death of seven-year-old student, Sawyer, has had a significant impact on our entire community. For those of you who knew Sawyer we ask that you remember and celebrate his joy for life, bright smile, passion for animals, love for playdough, Legos, music, and his spirit of unending curiosity.
Our crisis team has been mobilized to respond to this tragic event and identify individuals who may need additional support. Please observe your children closely over the next several days and weeks to watch for signs of distress. If your child’s worries or fears don’t go away or they begin to interfere with their day-to-day life, please reach out to their school counselor. Your child may be coming home with questions and worries about this loss.
Remember these helpful tips when talking with your child:
- Be honest and direct when sharing information about the incident.
- Give accurate yet age-appropriate information. Provide reassurance that they’re safe.
- Pay attention to your own feelings.
- Avoiding your personal feelings can make it more difficult to speak your child.
- Be mindful of how your stress can affect your child.
- Think about your child’s trauma background.
- Children who’ve experienced past traumas may feel especially vulnerable at this time.
- Address children’s questions, worries or misconceptions
- Check-in with your child to explore how they’re doing. Give them space to ask questions and encourage communication.
- Listen attentively, respond compassionately, and provide reassurance.
- If your child’s worries or fears don’t go away or begin to interfere with their day-to-day life, seek out additional supports.
- Support your child’s feelings.
- There is no wrong or right way to react to traumatic experiences. You can help your child by letting them know that all of their thoughts and feelings are okay.
- Encourage your child to share their favorite memories of their peer (e.g., write letters, draw pictures, make a commemorative space).
- Maintain consistent and regular routines.
- Routines help students feel that their world is still predictable. Being consistent can help them adapt to changes in their lives.
While it is important to deal with grief, it is essential to resume as normal a routine as possible. On the next page, we have some additional resources that may prove helpful to you as you discuss Sawyer’s death. Please reach out to your child’s school counselor questions regarding your child, or the steps being taken by the school to address this incident. Thank you for your support of our school system as we work together to cope with this tragedy.
Adults play an essential role in supporting grieving children. After a tragedy, it’s common to feel at a loss for what to say. The list below offers some phrases to avoid and suggestions for helpful alternatives.
|Saying nothing. When adults avoid a child’s grief, it can send the message that it’s an off-limits topic.||Instead try||“I want you to know how much I care about you.” Children feel supported when adults evidence their care and concern through words and actions.|
|“Don’t be sad.” It’s painful to see children sad, but these feelings are a normal part of the grieving process. Allowing children to have space for their own emotional expression is key.||Instead try||“I heard the difficult news. How are you doing today?” Through gentle inquiries like this, adults make the child the priority.|
|“I know exactly how you feel.” Grief is a unique experience. It’s impossible to know exactly how another person is grieving. It’s helpful to offer support that focuses on how the child is doing.||Instead try||“What has this been like for you?”
Asking open-ended questions gives children the space to discuss their own grief experience.
|“You must feel ___.” Grief is comprised of many different emotions. Instead of labeling emotions for the child, help them identify their own emotions.||Instead try||“How are you feeling?” This allows children to define their emotional experience.|
|“At least he is in a better place.” These statements tend to minimize the child’s loss. Children may feel limited in how they can respond to statements like these.||Instead try||“Are there questions or concerns that you have?” Children may not have a space where they can voice their questions or concerns. Checking in with them can offer a source of support.|
|“You should remember all of the positives in your life.” Adults often try to offer children an optimistic way to view their situation, but these well-intentioned statements may limit children from expressing how they are truly feeling.||Instead try||“Would you like to tell me some of your favorite memories of ___?” This can help the child feel connected to their deceased loved one.|
KIBSD Counseling Team:
North Star: Stephen Foreman
East Elementary: Jennifer Pedersen
Main Elementary: Sarah Bruce & Maggie Salisbury
Peterson Elementary: Breanna Peterson
School Psychologists: Kate Korrow, Jackie Gannon, Jamie Stoothof, Judith Davis & Amy Childers
Kodiak Middle School: Lucy O’Brien, Sheila Beardsley & Kris Foster
Kodiak High School: Jason Fox, Jenna Wagner, Courtney Baader & Leslie Foy
Rural Schools: Marilyn Gail
Social Worker: Tania Silva-Johnson