I wrote last week about Aria’s graduation. I don’t know if I specified that I was going to attend. I have known these kids for 8 years. I WANTED to see them graduate 8th grade. I wanted to congratulate them and hug them and wish them well, they deserved that!
I KNOW, that I did not mention that an employee from Aria’s school called me on Tuesday, June 4th. The conversation was regarding the upcoming graduation. She told me the KIDS planned to wear purple ribbons in honor of Aria. However, her main reason for calling was to get my “blessing” (per say) to go to each 8th grade English class to talk about the graduation and ceremony. She wanted to acknowledge the loss of Aria but at the same time “leave the trauma of losing Aria behind in 8th grade as they begin their new journey to high school, without forgetting her.” I, of course, agreed and did give her my blessing. As I said, I love these kids and it is in a sense a “new start” for them.
I felt like puking all day. I was so nervous. I had no idea what to expect. As I walked in, I was flooded with parents coming up, hugging me, with tears in their eyes. One parent in particular, grabbed me and held me, she said ” if I talk right now I’m going to lose it.” She composed herself to tell me that when her daughter first came to the school, Aria was the first person to make her feel welcome. Apparently, she was going through a hard time and Aria was there to support her. She referred to Aria as an “angel.” I didn’t know this woman. I didn’t know her daughter. But, I wasn’t surprised. That was the type of person Aria was.
I sat in the front row in the back. With me, my mom, Gary, my brother, and my friend Laura from SHOUT OUT LOUD! (Check it out). Our seats gave us access to see each child walk down the aisle to their assigned seats during the beginning ceremony. There was not ONE kid without their purple ribbon on( I love those kids). They walked in alphabetical order, ARIA JOY BURCH SENSER was missing, it was heartbreaking. In the program, there was a snippet about a $25 donation from Aria’s homeroom in honor of her. The principal acknowledged the tragedy of losing a classmate, he said her name, but that was it. Each kid got up and received their “8th Grade Graduation Certificate” with their Kindergarten picture next to their 8th grade picture. But no picture of Aria. Not a moment of silence. Not a pic “In memory of,”…………. NOTHING. Other than the 2 sentences the Principal mentioned about the “tragic loss of Aria, but how still, the 8th graders persevered and overcame.” But, NOTHING specific to her. Never mind that she has known these kids for 8 years. She was their friend, classmate, teammate, neighbor. I started to feel shame and sad for Aria. Because she deserved to be acknowledged. Not for her death but for her LIFE. She passed in February, she only missed 3 months of school before graduation. She was there for MOST of 8th grade. If Aria had died of Cancer, she would have been celebrated. It was the manner of how she died that determined how they included her or might I say, not included her.
I was pissed, but, I kept my composure. As I walked out I was swarmed by more parents who stated ” Its about time they acknowledged Aria.” I was taken aback by that comment. Primarily because if you call that “acknowledgement” it must be worse than I thought. I had heard from Aria’s closest friends that the school wouldn’t acknowledge her or the tragedy but I thought maybe they were just overly sensitive. To hear it from parents whose kids weren’t as close to Aria made it clearer. I sat and talked to about 15 parents separately and all of them stated that they provided NONE/ZERO extra mental health care for their children after Aria passed. Parent’s were crying saying their kids were grieving and the kids got no help. No grief courses, no equivalent to a EAP for children. That infuriates me.
The school did host a onetime meeting for 8th grade parents with an outside licensed Mental Health professional. I attended that meeting. It was about 3 weeks after Aria passed. There were over 30 parents at the meeting. These parents were begging for help on how to console their grieving children. Acknowledging that they were grieving themselves. The school and parents were noticing an influx of emotion and confusion. However, it was very clear that the school was trying to get parents to encourage their children to “go to class.” Apparently, that will help, if they stay focused in class, it can keep their mind off their friend who just died. I knew something was off, but it wasn’t until I spoke with all these parents that made it clear. The kicker, I had a teacher acknowledge to me AT GRADUATION that they do not prioritize mental health at their school……………..So, I made a phone call.
No one will silence my daughter. Schools need to be equipped to address the mental health needs of their students. We cannot continue to pretend that this is not an epidemic. By not addressing mental health and suicidal ideation we are increasing stigma. Guess what folks, it needs to start now, and it needs to start as young as 5th grade. Check the statistics. This will not change, until we stand for change. AND YOU WILL NOT SILENCE ME!