Student support groups provide aid

May 10, 2021

Student support groups have been created in response to recent world events and stresses that have been affecting students and staff lives. Invitations are sent via email and cover topics from coping with stress to processing recent violent attacks and killings.

“We know that many people may be experiencing feelings of pain and sadness, and we are here to support our students,” Superintendent Dr. Hank Thiele said in an email sent out to the District 99 community April 13. “Members of our Equity & Inclusion Council will be holding support groups for students and staff who wish to process their feelings about these and other events that negatively impact marginalized groups of people.”

Thiele notes why the creation of these groups is relevant and important for students.

“We send these messages as an attempt to reach out and connect to students that could be struggling with events in our world while inviting them in to process any feelings or concerns they are having—regardless of their views or perspectives,” Thiele said. “My primary role as superintendent is to support our students in whatever way is needed. However, part of that responsibility extends to demonstrating that hate and violence cannot be accepted at school or in our society. Ultimately, our students cannot feel safe to live and to learn until that happens.”

D99 Diversity Committee member Alison Helms details why exactly the Student Support Groups were created.

“[They] were initially created in order to offer a supportive space for students to process incidents of racial violence occurring in our society,” Helms said. “Our Counseling and Student Support Services (CSSS) department already offers a number of support groups for students grappling with other challenging life experiences; this built on those practices by acknowledging that public acts of racial violence can be a source of trauma, particularly for students of color. We know that trauma impacts people not just on a personal level, but also how they show up as learners.”

Equity and Inclusion Council member Kierstin Thompson believes the sessions provide a space for learning, mourning, showing solidarity and caring for others. Additionally, they bring awareness to injustices that may appear to affect others outside of the community, but actually impact students, staff and residents of Downers Grove and surrounding areas.

“The experience of student and faculty support sessions is always a learning experience for me,” Thompson said. “I gain understanding of different individuals’ experience of the world and of our schools each time I have attended. I get to know people and I get to see other ways of knowing and feeling that I don’t experience myself.”

Fellow Equity and Inclusion Council member Samiyah Nageeb has helped the Council’s mission in promoting equity and inclusion for all students by creating student sessions after the Atlanta shooting. Nageeb believes the spaces are a place for North and South high students to get together to process events that may be impacting them, and she has attended a majority of the meetings thus far.

“I’ve found that [the meetings] were meaningful spaces where students were able to use their voices to share how they were doing, ask questions, request support and share suggestions of how we might do better as a district,” Nageeb said.

Junior Mia Chen attended an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) processing event and found it to be a safe space where many people were able to share their personal experiences, many of them dealing with fear surrounding recent events.

“I liked [the session] because I got to express my discomforts knowing people were listening to me, and during the later part of it I went into an affinity space with other AAPI students,” Chen said.

The AAPI Student Union (AAPISU) was created shortly after the processing events held on April 23 and 24.

Black Student Union (BSU) President junior Quentin Mills has attended four processing sessions and has appreciated having a space to be open and honest about how he was feeling with fellow students, many of which he was not familiar with.

“Each time that I’ve attended a session I went with the main intention to be a listener and provide some form of support to my peers and, in some cases, to staff members,” Mills said. “I walk away from them feeling really connected and empowered because it reassures me that there are people in our school/community willing to gather and debrief about current events.”

Mills has noticed that when given the chance to hear what other people are saying and feeling, it can help broaden one’s own description of emotions that are truly hard to process alone, as well as walking away with more confidence to share how they are feeling. For Mills, the ending of each session has struck him as important.

“At the end, everyone has the opportunity to share whether or not their feelings have changed which usually leaves you with a better feeling than you came with. Also, some people were able to get suggestions about how to cope moving forward and some people even make a plan of action because they feel ready to turn their passion into action. I’ve felt the need to turn my passion into actions, to uplift the voices of others, and to think of at least one useful thing that can be taken away from each session,” Mills said.

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