Addressing grief in classroom important lesson at SUNY Potsdam


At SUNY Potsdam preparing exceptional teachers isn’t limited to lesson plans. Ada Santaferra, professor and internship coordinator in the Community Health department, as well as a member of Phi Kappa Phi, believes that having the skills to support students who are grieving is critical to being an effective teacher. As of 2007, Santaferra implemented a requirement for all of her School Health course students to attend a workshop addressing grief in classrooms.

With the help of Mary Jones, Director of Family Support Services at Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley, Santaferra has provided the SUNY Potsdam faculty and students with an opportunity to learn methods of coping with grief and ways to support others who are grieving.

The concept for the two-hour workshops was discussed after Jones’ first presentation to Santaferra’s School Health classes. Following this, other SUNY Potsdam faculty members teaching School Health became interested in applications of grief management beyond the community health field. Jones’ presentation also evolved into an article published by the New York Teacher magazine, and an opportunity for Santaferra and Jones to present the workshop at the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) School Related Professionals Leadership Conference and the NYSUT BOCES Leadership Conference in October 2009.

The workshop titled, “When Grief Comes to School”, has seen a great deal of success in St. Lawrence County. “The education provided in this workshop provides schools and future teachers the tools they need to start cultivating healthy grievers in the classroom,” Santaferra said. She hopes “to get teachers to understand that grief is not an event; it is a process that affects almost every part of a child’s life.”

The topics addressed by “When Grief Comes to School” include how children grieve at different developmental stages of their lives, ten things everyone should know about grieving children, preparing children to attend calling hours and funerals and other helpful resources for teachers use.

Since the start of the workshop program Santaferra and Jones have received many invitations to speak at other New York schools, thus expanding the outreach of this program and helping hundreds of teachers prepare for the complexities of grief in the classroom.

Ada Santaferra
(315) 267-3132 |