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Red River students cope with classmate's death

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Red River High School and the Grand Forks community worked through the difficult reality of a senior student's suicide Friday, with the school offering counselors and clergy helped students come to terms with the event while ...

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Red River High School and the Grand Forks community worked through the difficult reality of a senior student's suicide Friday, with the school offering counselors and clergy helped students come to terms with the event while staff reassured the children there was no right way to grieve.

Principal Kris Arason said students and staff were taken by surprise by the student's death, which happened Thursday. He said the student, a girl, was a senior who was well-known, well-liked and well-involved. Red River High School students taking to social media appeared to agree, offering condolences and explaining their heartbreak.

"Obviously, it's been a very tough day for our students, for our staff, for everybody here at Red River High School as we try to cope with this tragedy with the death of one of our students," Arason said. "We had counselors from all over the district, we had people from (the University of North Dakota), we had local clergy (at the school)."

Arason sent an email and a recorded phone message to Red River parents Thursday evening informing them of the student's death.

Throughout the day, he said, school staff met with students by grade level to talk about their fellow student's death. Arason said school leaders used those meetings to explain to those students that what they were feeling is OK -- that there isn't a prescribed way to deal with it.

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District spokeswoman Tracy Jentz said as a result of the student's death, softball and baseball games were canceled on Friday. Arason noted a fire alarm that went off at Red River High School on Friday morning was triggered by a sensor in the school gym and was unrelated to the student's death.

Joseph Sproul, a senior at the school, said he was impressed by the school's response, especially given the presence of so many counselors and multiple pastors.

"Everybody was obviously sad," he said of the student body. "They weren't as optimistic as they usually are, and I think it was because everybody felt like they were blaming themselves for not being able to pick it up, for not being able to (see a) sign."

The counseling offered to students, Arason said, offers support grieving students, as well as referral to off-campus resources if they need it. Though the counselors and other support staff brought to the school Friday are not expected to remain there throughout the year, Arason stressed counseling services are available to all students who request them.

Anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide is encouraged to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Arason added any students thinking of suicide should reach out to others.

"Reach out to your friends, reach out to your family," he said. "Reach out to an adult in your life. There's all kinds of people that can help you."

Red River's school year lasts until May 31 for seniors, and until June 2 for all other students.

"I think we'll just take it day by day," Arason said. "It's going to be tough to say how it's going to play out for the rest of the year."

Related Topics: RED RIVER
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