Newberg High School freshman Madison Kaatz was found unresponsive by her father in the family's home on June 24. Emergency responders arrived quickly but couldn't revive her and she was pronounced dead on the scene of unknown causes.
The Newberg School District, upon learning of the girl's passing, immediately put forth its plan of action for tragic events such as this.
They contacted the family to determine their wishes with regard to an announcement, what resources they might need and any other help the district could provide.
After that conversation, they set up a time from 9 a.m. to noon on June 26, during which trained staff were in the conference room at the high school to assist other students with the grieving process.
Community resource specialist Leo Cejahidalgo was among a group of staff and administrators leading the meeting. He said it involved a variety of staff who were there for family, friends and others who might have known Kaatz.
"We typically implement a multidisciplinary meeting," Cejahidalgo said. "Our resource officer is a part of that, a mental health specialist and other adults who can provide support to kids in the community. When need be, we reach out to outside groups for assistance as well."
The three-hour window turned the high school into a safe room of sorts, according to assistant principal and athletic director Tim Burke. Licensed healthcare providers were on site alongside adults who were a part of Kaatz's world.
Many of the adults present were from Mountain View Middle School, which Kaatz attended before coming to NHS.
Some of the students in attendance who knew Kaatz expressed a desire to host some kind of event in the near future honoring their classmate's memory.
Through it all, Cejahidalgo said the students appeared to be processing their grief in a mature and healthy way, and he was glad they came together in the way they did.
"Students did what they needed to do in terms of discussing and processing," he said. "It was really a beautiful thing because we had a good turnout of students and individuals assisting."
Burke added that he was encouraged by the response coming from the district and school, who have a contingency plan in place in the event of a tragedy. This plan includes the meeting of a "flight team" that decides what will be best for the family of the deceased, how to handle the days after the death and who to put the affected parties in contact with.
The family's wishes domino everything else, Burke said, and from there the school hopes to follow protocol in a way that avoids missing anyone in need of help.
Grief is challenging for kids and adults alike, he said, and the first priority has to be adhering to the needs of the family.
"Some families need a big show of resources and support, while others just want the grieving process to be more private," Burke said. "Whatever we can provide, we will try to provide.
"It may be that this situation is triggering for students or others with experiences they've had in their lives. We have to be aware of that and tend to those needs."
Cejahidalgo, who has extensive experience on the mental health side of things, echoed Burke's sentiments. He said the grieving process is one shared by an entire community.
"We look at the impact this has had on the family, friends and in our community," he said. "Our main concern is taking care of our students and their families, and making sure our students see that so they know the resource is there for them.
"Moments like this impact us all."
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