6 parents at a Phoenix school died of COVID-19 in 2 months. How a program helped students and staff deal with the trauma
Excerpt from: "6 parents at a Phoenix school died of COVID-19 in 2 months. How a program helped students and staff deal with the trauma"
PHOENIX - In nearly 40 years working in education, Juan Sierra had never seen so many parents of students die so suddenly.
Six parents, including one grandparent raising four children, died over a span of just more than two months at Southwest Elementary School in Phoenix, where Sierra is the principal.
The parents and a grandparent died of COVID-19 from the end of November to early February when there was a surge in cases because of the highly transmissible omicron variant.
"A grandparent, a father, a mother, a father, a mother and a father," Sierra said, listing the primary caretakers of students at his school who had died. He wore a white face mask while sitting in the principal's office of the school on Dobbins Road in south Phoenix.
The school serves students from predominantly working-class Latino families, who have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 because of long-standing disparities in health, health care, exposure to the virus, rates of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and other inequities.
The rash of deaths at Southwest Elementary shook the emotional well-being not only of the grieving children who lost a parent or grandparent, Sierra said, but tore through the entire school, affecting classmates, teachers, staff and administrators.
"I've been in (education) for over 38 years, this has never happened to me at a school. This is all pandemic-related." Sierra said. "It's not uncommon to lose one parent a year, but not six in a span of a few months."
In addition to the deaths, the school was slammed by a wave of quarantines during the omicron surge. Many students were forced to quarantine at home and learn remotely either because they tested positive for COVID-19 or had been exposed to someone who tested positive.
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