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Posted December 11, 2017

APS Counselors Go to Aztec Following School Shooting

A group of highly trained APS counselors is providing support, information and resources.

Members of the DSMART Team

Minutes after APS Superintendent Raquel Reedy heard about the school shooting at Aztec High School on Friday, Dec. 8, she reached out to her counterpart in the small Northern New Mexico school district and offered help and resources, including crisis counseling. She made the same offer to the Navajo Nation.

They took her up on the offer, and over the weekend a team of six APS crisis counselors headed to Aztec to assist in the aftermath of the tragedy that left two students dead. The shooter, a former Aztec student, also was killed.

Need help or know someone who does? Contact the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474) or nmcrisisline.com.

The counselors are part of the District Stress Management and Recovery Team or DSMART.

No matter what the tragedy, this group of highly trained, volunteer counselors from schools across APS are on standby, ready to provide information, support and resources for students, staff and families in crisis.  

APS counselors are expected to be in Aztec all week. They won't receive extra pay for providing this service, though the district is picking up the tab for meals and lodging.

Often referred to as “The Crisis Team,” DSMART responds to dozens of calls a year. Sometimes the help comes in the form of a simple supportive phone call while at other times, it’s a full-force response with as many as 20 counselors converging on a school to assist anyone who is struggling with the tragedy.

“This is a group of super professional, super compassionate, super driven counselors, all with graduate degrees, all who undergo intensive training because they care,” said Victoria Waugh-Reed, APS Crisis Resource Counselor. “It’s all I can do to get some of them to fill out mileage reimbursements. They aren’t looking for anything for themselves. They just want to help others.”

The goal of the team is to get things back to normal as soon as possible after a crisis. Team members are often the ones who tell students and staff about a death or serious injury. They choose their words carefully.

“If we say we lost a student, some of the younger children will ask when we are going to find them,” Waugh-Reed said.  

The team also is trained in diversity awareness. “We are trying to be respectful of culture, spiritually, faith and beliefs,” she said.   

Team members visit classrooms, hold staff meetings, set up family information rooms if necessary. They provide handouts. They get those who are struggling in touch with mental health professionals. They provide tips on coping and on helping others cope.

And they watch. The counselors are trained to spot individuals who are in need of additional assistance. “Sometimes we have to remind people to eat, to drink water, to take care of themselves. These situations can trigger a lot of emotions,” Waugh-Reed said. Members of the team also make an effort to check on each other after each crisis to make sure they are coping as well.  

While the team’s response is different at every school depending on the crisis, the age of the students and the impact on the community, DSMART follows an international, research-based model called Critical Incident Stress Management with a focus on schools and children crisis response.

The team works with many different groups to provide support for schools including police, parent organizations, district departments, grief centers and mental health professionals.

Team members encourage those in need of support during a crisis to contact the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474) or nmcrisisline.com.

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