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Posted August 30, 2016

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Crisis Team assists in times of tragedy

The group of highly trained APS counselors is ready to provide support, information and resources for students, staff and families in crisis.

Members of the Crisis Team were honored by Mayor Berry.

In the first weeks of the school year, the District Stress Management and Recovery Team, or DSMART, has already responded to half a dozen crisis situations at APS schools. Some were headline-grabbing incidents including the horrific murder of a Petroglyph Elementary student and, just a couple of days later, the murder of a fifth grader at S.R. Marmon Elementary at the hands of her stepfather who then turned the gun on himself.

Others didn’t make the evening news, like the beloved high school teacher and the long-time elementary school custodian who both died suddenly of heart attacks.

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

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

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.

When a school is in crisis, Victoria Waugh-Reed, APS Crisis Resource Counselor, sends a message to the 29 DSMART members who respond if they can. These counselors aren’t paid extra for time away from their schools or for extra training or for the services they provide. That’s not why they do this.

“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 Waugh-Reed. “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 normally 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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