New York Life Foundation Announces New National Initiative to Help Schools Support Students Who Have Lost a Parent or Loved One

Originally Published by New York Life.

The New York Life Foundation, the largest corporate sponsor of childhood bereavement support, today announced the national launch of its Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative (GSSI). Through this pioneering program, the Foundation will train thousands of New York Life employees and agents to give presentations about grief in schools and the resources available for educators. Schools then have the opportunity to receive a grant if they strive to become grief-sensitive.


“Although student tragedies and acts of violence strike our communities all too often, creating urgent concern around issues of death and grief at school, grief is an issue that educators encounter in the classroom every single day,” said Heather Nesle, president of the New York Life Foundation. “Our new initiative is designed to empower educators and school community members to act on a critical opportunity to provide support to their grieving students.”

New York Life employees and agents who participate in the program will serve as GSSI ambassadors to schools in their local communities, helping to raise educators’ awareness of grief’s prevalence and impact among school-age children, and direct educators to free online resources designed for educational practitioners, and other grief support tools, including a state-by-state guide to local grief organizations and camps.

In addition to facilitating local community efforts by employees and agents, the New York Life Foundation is also aiming to generate large scale impact across some of the nation’s largest school districts through a partnership with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, directed by Dr. David Schonfeld. In an upcoming phase of the GSSI program, Dr. Schonfeld will work with entire school districts over the next three years to develop strategies and best practices for broader, district-wide grief support that can be adopted nationwide.

“Our hope is to lay the groundwork for a significant shift in the level and quality of support grieving students receive at school,” said Dr. Schonfeld. “Educators who receive simple training sessions and special resources created by experts can express care and concern to their grieving students and make appropriate accommodations to support continued academic success and make a big difference during a critical time in their lives.”

GSSI Founded in Response to Wide-Reaching Impact of Grief at School

New York Life spearheaded the development of GSSI to help address a longstanding issue in the nation’s schools: According to recent data1, one in 15 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by age 18; yet only seven percent of classroom teachers have received bereavement training, according to the New York Life Foundation’s survey of U.S. educators.2

Schools that agree they will strive to better support their grieving students receive the “Grief-Sensitive Schools” designation, which is accompanied by a grant from the New York Life Foundation to help support the needs of its students.

Since the program was piloted in 2016, more than 400 schools have received the GSSI designation and the program is projected to provide $500,000 in grants and reach 1,000 schools by the end of the 2018-2019 school year. The initiative is an extension of the work of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students, a collaboration among leading K-12 professional organizations to develop and deliver best-in-class grief support resources to educators and other school professionals. The New York Life Foundation founded the Coalition in 2013, in partnership with the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, as part of its commitment to improving schools’ ability to reach their grieving students.

Program Spurs Local Schools to Take Action, Foster Culture of Grief Sensitivity

For Dawn Riedl, a 5th grade guidance counselor at Eubanks Intermediate School near Dallas, TX, participating in the GSSI program was critical in helping their school community better support their grieving students. “These resources could not have come at a better time, as last spring our campus had multiple families dealing with loss,” said Riedl. “The online tools and training modules allowed our teachers to feel better prepared to help their students cope with their grief. In addition, our counselors used the materials to hold group therapy sessions and we distributed the resources to the surviving parents as well.

At Orange Brook Elementary School in South Florida, GSSI prompted the school to implement new grief strategies. “Since participating in the program we have created a bucket system to promote character development with our students to further support their social-emotional needs, provided access to individual and group counseling sessions and offered referrals to social workers to our grieving students when needed,” said Amelia D’costa, Reading Resource Teacher.

For schools interested in learning more about how to become a Grief-Sensitive School, please visit www.newyorklife.com/foundation/gssi, and consider joining the growing list of schools that have taken the Grief-Sensitive Schools pledge here.

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