School copes with tragedy -- again

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The brick-lined halls of Steamboat Springs Middle School were unusually quiet Monday as students and staff coped with the second sudden and accidental death of a student since October.

Seventh-grader Ashley Stamp died Sunday morning after colliding with a snowmobile at Vail Ski Resort. Stamp, 13, was warming up for a ski race when the accident occurred at about 8:20 a.m.

Fellow seventh-grader Travis Taber died Oct. 9 in a four-wheeling accident.

News of Stamp's death quickly spread throughout the community, and Steamboat Springs School District officials met Sunday afternoon to formulate a crisis response plan to help students, staff and parents deal with the tragic news.

Middle school staff members met early Monday morning to discuss Stamp's death and how to address it with the students they would see later in the day. Teachers began the school day by reading a prepared statement about Stamp's death and allowing their students to talk about the incident. Students were encouraged to write letters or find other avenues to express their feelings. A box of those letters will be given to Stamp's family.

About a dozen counselors from various community agencies were made available to students who sought additional help. Counseling also was available at the other district schools, where Stamp knew many older and younger students through her involvement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Stamp's younger sister is a student at Soda Creek Elementary School.

Middle school staff met again Monday afternoon, and parents were invited to attend a counseling session early Monday evening. Counselors will be available for students today.

Middle school Principal Tim Bishop said Stamp's death hit his students and staff hard. That her death followed so closely on the heels of Taber's death only intensified the situation.

"The first tragedy was very, very difficult," Bishop said. "Whenever you have another death, it brings up those feelings and fears once again.

"Ashley was so well-liked. We knew her as a tremendous seventh-grader and a tremendous student. She impacted a lot of different lives, from students to staff."

Bishop credited his staff for its strength and thanked the community for providing resources to help students, teachers and parents cope with Stamp's death.

Middle school counselor Margi Briggs-Casson said it's important to let children express their thoughts and emotions in times of tragedy. It's also important to allay any fears they might have about their own deaths.

Although middle school students are old enough to understand the permanence of death, they don't necessarily understand the randomness of accidents and why bad things happen to good people, Briggs-Casson said.

Parents and relatives also should make sure their children have accurate information about the incidents for which they are grieving, she said.

In time, students will overcome the grieving process and embrace a return to normalcy.

"Kids are resilient," Briggs-Casson said. "We just make sure we have enough available people to be with kids as they go through their grief."

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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