How to talk to your child about loss and grief

Death can be a difficult subject for parents and caretakers to discuss with children. Children feel and show their grief in different ways. How children cope with death can depend on things like their age and developmental level, their relationship to the person who died, and the support they receive.  

Some helpful hints for supporting children through grief experiences include:

  • Be honest about the situation
  • Use simple and clear words
  • Use the terms “died/dead/death” rather than phrases like “passed away” or “taken from us”    
  • Listen and encourage questions
  • Encourage your child to express their feelings, no matter what they are
  • Remind that there’s not a right or wrong way to feel and that everyone has different reactions to death at different times
  • Remind that grief can feel like a roller coaster ride, with waves of emotion that come and go
  • Provide comfort and reassurance
  • Be honest about your own grief responses…it is okay to model healthy grieving   
  • Try to maintain typical daily routines to promote stability
  • Prepare your child for what will happen at viewings, rituals, funerals, or memorial services
  • If the death of a loved one means there will be changes to routines in your child’s life, tell your child what to expect
  • Anticipate potential grief triggers such as the death anniversary date and holidays
  • Access resources if you become concerned about your child’s grief responses.

If you would like additional information or support in talking to children about loss and grief, please contact your school’s school counselor or an Area Education Agency (AEA) school psychologist or social worker. These professionals have specific training to guide you and your child through the grief process and can assist in assuring that grief does not become a distraction from the learning process at school. Each AEA in Iowa has a team of professionals that serve local school districts in times of crisis to assure that the school administrators have the resources and supports needed to respond to student and adult needs.

Kandice Bienfang-Lee, School Social Worker

Kandice Bienfang-Lee, School Social Worker

Kandice Beinfang-Lee is a School Social Worker with Area Education Agency 267, which serves over 62,000 students in school districts representing 18 counties in north central and eastern Iowa. She can be reached at klee@aea267.k12.ia.us.

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Help for students with dyslexia

What is dyslexia? This is a question that is often asked by parents who are trying to understand why their child is not learning to read with ease. Many people think dyslexia is seeing words and letters backwards. Contrary to what was once thought, dyslexia is not a visual problem such as seeing the letters backwards, or reversing the order of letters in a word. Rather the difficulties for a child with dyslexia occur in the area of the brain where language is processed. Children with dyslexia have difficulty hearing the individual sounds within a spoken word, called phonemes. Difficulty with phonemes can include not being able to hear individual sounds, the inability to segment a word into its individual sounds, or not being able to blend sounds together to make a word. This can lead to difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, decoding abilities, poor spelling, as well as difficulty pronouncing words correctly.

Dyslexia is not an intellectual disability. Research has shown that readers with dyslexia activate different parts of the brain when reading, as compared to the non-dyslexic reader. These findings are clear regardless of age, proving that dyslexia is lifelong and with specific teaching these students can learn to read, spell, and write at any age. Some early warning signs might be seen in early spoken language, then later in slowness of reading and spelling. One of the most effective things that can be done for struggling readers, including those with dyslexia, is to provide a minimum of 90 minutes of high quality teaching daily that includes both reading and spelling.

Since early identification is most helpful, schools are encouraged to begin screening children in kindergarten to identify any child who shows the early signs of potential reading difficulties. Iowa’s educational system is designed to provide assistance early for all learners who are not on track to be successful readers. With the passing of the Early Literacy Implementation rules, all students in grades K-3 receive a screening for their reading skills three times a year; and interventions are put in place for those needing more support. Iowa Area Education Agencies (AEAs) partner with local school districts to make sure that all students learn reading and other literacy skills. Iowa’s AEAs support literacy because reading skills lead directly to success in other subjects such as social studies, math, and science.

There are many families that have children who are struggling readers and oftentimes parents feel helpless. They want to support their children but may not be sure of how best to go about it. Iowa AEAs, along with local school districts, are partnering with families to help all children learn to read. Statewide resources around dyslexia are posted on each AEA’s website to provide further information and contacts for assistance.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s reading skills, contact your child’s teacher, principal, or your local AEA.

Kim Swartz, Regional Administrator

Kim Swartz, Regional Administrator

Kim Swartz is a Regional Administrator with Area Education Agency 267, which serves over 62,000 students in school districts representing 18 counties in north central and eastern Iowa. She can be reached at kswartz@aea267.k12.ia.us.

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Could your child be suffering from a mental illness? Help is available

Issues around mental health seem to be making news headlines on a routine basis. Stories vary from acts of violence to lack of services for individuals suffering from mental health conditions. Whatever the storyline, the reality is that mental health is often misunderstood and mischaracterized. For example, the majority of violent crimes and homicides are not committed by people with mental health problems. Statistics show that only 3% to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals with a serious mental health disorder and that individuals suffering from a mental illness are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime.

It is critically important that mental health conditions be taken seriously–especially when the person suffering is a child who struggles to advocate for his/her needs. Statistics show that 20% of youth aged 13-18 experience a severe mental health disorder at some point. However, it can be difficult to recognize the signs of a mental health condition and there is no one test that will diagnose an illness. Each mental health condition has its own symptoms, and warning signs including concerns such as: excessive worry or fear; sudden changes in school performance; problems concentrating; extreme mood changes; avoiding friends or social activities; changes in eating or sleep habits; or thoughts of suicide.

Thinking that someone you love might be suffering from mental health issues can be scary, but it is important to be informed and access accurate information about mental health. A good starting point is to contact your child’s school counselor or school nurse. Another resource is the Area Education Agency staff that serve your child’s school. Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267) is committed to supporting the mental health needs of students and offers training for teachers that focuses on understanding mental health issues and providing interventions to support your child. In addition,  AEA 267 has staff members with expertise in mental health who are available to support educational teams and students. These individuals can be accessed by contacting your child’s principal. Finally, there are many excellent online resources that provide information about mental health including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the U.S. Heath and Human Services.

Understanding mental health is a critical first step to seeking treatment and reduce the stigmas around mental illness. Reach out today!

Dr. Karen Aldrich, Regional Administrator

Dr. Karen Aldrich, Regional Administrator

Dr. Karen Aldrich is an administrator with Area Education Agency 267 which serves over 62,000 students in public and non-public school districts representing 18 counties in north central, central and eastern Iowa.  

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Iowa’s Area Education Agencies play daily, “behind-the-scenes” role in your child’s education

Those of us who have been employed by Iowa’s Area Education Agency (AEAs) system are used to the puzzled looks we get from neighbors and friends when we say that we work for the Area Education Agency–or “AEA”– system. Despite our best efforts over the last 40 or so years, too few people still truly understand the vital role that we play in helping all of Iowa’s children achieve–mostly because the majority of the time, that role is “behind-the-scenes” in local school districts.

What is an Area Education Agency (AEA)? Here are just a few of the ways that we are serving your community’s students.

  • Frequently, our staff members are the ones leading the professional learning that your child’s teachers are receiving when there are “no school” or “early dismissal” days. Our staff members receive a great deal of training on best practices in teaching and learning and then work directly with local teachers to help those ideas get implemented into the classroom.
  • Your local school district is involved in the Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) program which requires that lead teachers have access to high quality professional learning around improving classroom practices. This training likely comes from your local Area Education Agency whose professional learning consultants designed a specialized plan for the schools it serves.
  • Has your school district launched a new reading initiative? Adopted a new assessment? It’s likely that an AEA staff member may have introduced the initiative and is working quietly in the background helping to support classroom teachers with putting new strategies into regular practice.
  • How about the students with special needs in your school district? Those students are regularly seen by AEA professionals who have master’s degrees in key areas like psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and more. These professionals work closely with the classroom teacher to identify student-specific targets for growth and help to ensure that progress is being made so that each child can reach his/her maximum potential. However, if you don’t have a child with special needs, you would probably never even know about this important service that impacts over 8,000 children in our area of the state.
  • Step into many classrooms today and you will likely notice a number of students-used materials like play-away books, iPads, robots, and more. Most of these materials are items that school districts could not afford to purchase on their own so the AEA purchases them and loans them out to every school district so that no child goes without the opportunity to learn from them.

These are just a few of the many services provided by your local AEA. Services are funded through a combination of federal-aid and state-aid payments; legislatively controlled property tax; federal, state and private grants; and tuition for classes. Without ongoing support from these sources, the educational experience each child receives in Iowa would not be nearly the same.

Beth Strike, Director of Creative Services

Beth Strike, Director of Creative Services

Beth Strike, APR, is the director of Creative Services with Area Education Agency 267. She can be reached at (800) 542-8375

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Helen Hanson Elementary School honored for breaking education barriers

Helen Hanson Elementary School in Cedar Falls was one of five Iowa schools honored by the State Board of Education for their work to raise achievement among groups of students who traditionally face challenges in the classroom.

The Breaking Barriers to Teaching and Learning Award was created by the State Board of Education. Each year, the award recognizes successful efforts to eliminate achievement gaps. This year’s award-winners were recognized for having the highest proficiency rates statewide in math and reading among a specific subgroup of students, such as students whose first language is not English and students from low-income backgrounds. State assessment results from the last three years were examined to confirm a positive trend for each school.

Helen Hansen Elementary was recognized for its work with students who have special needs and are on an Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Among Hansen’s students on IEPs, 79 percent are proficient in reading and math, compared to a statewide average of 43 percent.

“We commend these schools for their work to demonstrate that students can succeed regardless of their backgrounds,” said State Board of Education Vice President Michael Knedler. “We have work to do as a state to close achievement gaps and improve for the sake of all students, and Iowa has the right roadmap in place to get us there. It includes a comprehensive teacher leadership system, an early literacy initiative, and a coordinated effort to connect students with high-demand, rewarding careers.”

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