EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - After the death of Yousef Khela, a 13-year-old student at Churchill Junior High School who slipped through the ice of East Brunswick Municipal pond on January 22, the East Brunswick Public Schools have mobilized a crisis response team to help students and staff. It consists of school counselors, student assistance counselors, child study team members, and administrators to assist students, staff, and family.
The team is trained by members of the Middlesex County Traumatic Loss Coalition. Together with the school administrators across the district, they have supplied resources for staff and students, including individual and small group counseling for those affected.
“As we process this loss, we will continue to assess the impact on our students, staff, and school community and will provide ongoing support if needed,” a group of administrators supporting the needs of the students noted, including Mrs. Louise Sultana, head of the Counseling Department.
In the days following the tragedy, the school community, according to the administrators, has banded together to support one another in coping with grief. Students have come with their own concerns or concerns for friends that might need support.
“The Counseling Department has kept track of students who are struggling with this loss,” the administrators said. Staff will continue to follow up with these students throughout the grieving process and support them in any way possible.
“It’s not easy to say good-bye to a loved one, but I know that he is in a better place, and he and his family are in my prayers,” Sara Moawad, a member of Kesaf’s church and good friend of his sisters, said. “There’s this verse in the Bible that I read that says, `He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3.) I pray that God gives comfort to his family and everyone that knows him during this time.”
Accommodations for midterm exams have been made on an as-needed basis. For those students who need them, make-up exams will take place in the afternoon on January 24, 27, and 28, and in the morning on January 29. Counselors will actively support students in scheduling make-up midterm exams.
To support the family during this time, look for any information that may be released from St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church on how to honor the family’s wishes. Mayor Cohen is currently preparing a vigil for Sunday, January 26 at 5 p.m. beside the municipal pond (1 Civic Center Drive).
“Everyone grieves differently. Keeping normalcy and routine, we have found, is the best way to support the majority of students; having strong routines supports resiliency,” the administrative team assured students, staff, and members of the community.
In order to support parents in talking with their children, the resources below were offered on the East Brunswick Public Schools website:
A Grieving Teen Has the Right to...
Know the truth about the death, the deceased and the circumstances
Have questions answered honestly
Be heard with dignity and respect
Be silent and not tell you his or her grief emotions or thoughts
Not agree with your perceptions and conclusions
See the person who died and the place of the death
Grieve any way she or he wants to without hurting self or others
Feel all the feelings and to think all the thoughts of his or her own unique grief
Not to have to follow the "stages of grief" as outlined in a high school health book
Grieve in one's own unique, individual way without censorship
Be angry at death, at the person who died, at God, at self and at others
Ignore people who are insensitive and spout clichés
Have his or her own theological and philosophical beliefs about life and death
Be involved in the decisions about the rituals related to the death
Not be taken advantage of in this vulnerable mourning condition and circumstances
Have irrational guilt about how he or she could have intervened to stop the death
(From How to Help a Grieving Teen, the poem "A Grieving Teen has the Right to..." by the Dougy Center)