For senior school psychologist Kay Blanchard and her staff of five school psychologists, learning of the deaths of two Greenbrier High juniors Tuesday evoked a two-word response:
"It's been an unusual and difficult year. We've had five incidents resulting in six deaths in just one year," Blanchard said.
She and her staff were dispatched to Greenbrier High School on Wednesday to support the students and staff who were grieving over the deaths of Shane Williams and Daniel Hall. The juniors died in a traffic accident the day before while traveling to a golf tournament in Lincoln County. Brothers Michael and Matthew Barman, both passengers in Shane's Ford Explorer, were hospitalized.
Greenbrier Principal Sandra Carraway said the morning began with students and faculty from Greenbrier and Lakeside High School gathering around the flagpole to pray for the families and students involved.
A year of woe
Deaths of Columbia County school students and former students in this academic year:
* On Sept. 13, North Harlem Elementary School third-grader Andrew Hawkinberry, 8, was killed in a car crash on Interstate 20 in Warren County as his family was driving to his brother's football game.
* On Sept. 25, Evans Elementary School kindergartner Morgan Danielle Beverly, 5, died when she was run over by her father's work truck.
* Evans High School junior Holly Spivey, 16, died with her mother and father in a house fire Oct. 4.
* Lakeside High School senior Brandon Layton, 18, of Martinez, was killed in a traffic accident Feb. 28, on River Watch Parkway near Furys Ferry Road, when the driver of a Camry heading the wrong way in the eastbound lane crashed head-on into Brandon's Toyota MR2.
* Two former Lakeside High School students - David Williams, 25, of Covington, Ga., and Candace DeChiaro, 19, of Sapphire Drive, Martinez - died April 10 of massive head and chest injuries. They were passengers in a BMW driven by Williams, who was driving west on Frontage Road when the vehicle went off the right side of the road. Williams overcorrected and the vehicle veered into the eastbound lane, where it struck a minivan driven by Genine Urquhart, 52, of Fairfax Street, Martinez.
* Greenbrier High School juniors Shane Williams, 17, and Daniel Hall, 16, were killed April 15 around 3 p.m. on Ashmore-Barden Road in Lincoln County while traveling to a golf tournament at Rocky Branch Golf Club, Greenbrier's home course. Brothers Michael and Matthew Barman - also Greenbrier students - survived the accident, which occurred when Shane, the driver of the 1998 Ford Explorer, veered off the shoulder of the road while traveling north, police said. He over-corrected, crossed the center line and crashed into an embankment.
"There's been an amazing outpouring of love and support from students from other schools and from our own," Carraway said. "We're just trying to get through the day and help our faculty and students deal with it as best as possible."
Before school began, there was a faculty meeting with counselors, a chaplain from Fort Gordon and school psychologists to brief the staff of what to expect when students arrived.
"We have two groups of people who are so upset," Carraway said. "We have teachers who've taught these boys and love them, and their parents, too. We have 1,550 students in the building, and so there are a lot of kids who didn't know these young men, and others who sat next to them in several classes."
Carraway described both boys as, "fine young men, good students, good athletes." She said students would be making cards to send to the boys in the hospital and also for the families of Shane and Daniel.
This was the fifth time this year that Blanchard and her staff have been called to help schools cope with their grief.
"Our role is really a support role to the administration, staff and students, and we try to provide materials to them related to grief, what is normal and how to help them through that," she said. "Typically students are going to relate to people they know, so their teachers and their counselors are on the front line. We're there for the back-up support."
She said her staff set up a place at Greenbrier where students could come to be comforted.
"For those students who are having a difficult time being in class, there's a place for them to come so they can be quiet, be together, and have us available as we are needed," Blanchard said.
Lakeside High School has had two tragic incidents this year that have shaken students and staff - the death at the beginning of the year of beloved Spanish teacher Cathy Ferko, who died from breast cancer, and the death in February of Brandon Layton, who died in a traffic accident.
Counselor Donnie Burch said the role of the counselor in such situations is to help students and staff express their grief through various ways and to be there to listen.
"They have a lot of things they want to express and everyone expresses them differently, so providing different mediums to express their grief is key," he said.
When Brandon and Ferko died, a book was placed in the media center so students and faculty could write their remembrances of them or write messages to the family. But a school, he said, never fully recovers from such an event.
"I don't know that you ever get over it," he said. "You learn, you build and you grow from it. Brandon will always be remembered here - he's in the yearbook, he was part of our ROTC - so him dying doesn't mean he goes away. It become as part of the foundation of the school."
Though school psychologists typically council students with special needs, being there in times of crisis in just another aspect of the job - this year more than ever, Blanchard said.
"It's been a pretty tough year. It's tough," Blanchard said. "But the Greenbrier community is a very supportive community, administration and faculty and they are doing as well as you could do under the circumstances."
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