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Counselors Help Students Cope with Deaths of Classmates

By Eileen Buckley

Amherst, NY – Students at Williamsville North High School will be attending their second funeral this week for a fellow-student Wednesday. Four students from the school have died in less than a month. Grief counselors and mental health experts continue working as a team to help students deal with the usual circumstances.

The school's social worker, Gail Bauer, says they tried to bring some normalcy to Williamsville North Tuesday with regular class schedules. Bauer has been helping to counsel students. She says everyone is "reeling" from the four deaths, especially with two occurring this past weekend. Bauer says most students are expressing shock and disbelief.

"Because these deaths were so sudden, it's just hard for them to believe that this has actually happened," Bauer said. "So, my task is to help them deal with the reality of the situation so that they can internalize that this has happened."

On Friday, 17-year old Aaron Sikora of Amherst was in a car crash on North French Road. He died Sunday from his injuries. But just one day before that car crash, another student at the school died while exercising on a treadmill. He was buried Monday. On December 26, a 17-year old female student died unexpectedly while in Arizona and students also learned that a sophomore died from cancer.

Bauer says counselors are keeping a close watch on students who were closest to those who died. But all teens will be monitor into the future for signs of depression.

"We're looking for change in behavior or a change in eating habits, just classic signs of depression" Bauer said. "Whether it's grades plummeting or a lack of concentration, there are a whole host of behaviors that indicate someone is really struggling and suffering from depression. Still, we expect some of those reactions from people who are grieving."

Bauer says the school is especially worried about students who displayed some signs of depression and anxiety prior to the deaths. The school also sent home letters to parents this week encouraging them to talk about the grieving process with their children.

Bauer says the community has been "wonderful." She says Williamsville North has received an "outpouring" of support form school districts across the region who have sent flowers and pizzas, offering a "heartwarming" gesture to students in a tragic time.