Union County copes with tragedy Counselors help students deal with the fatal accident


Lake Butler school children gather at the "Healing Wall" in front of Union County High School on Thursday to pay respects to the seven victims killed in Wednesday's crash on State Road 121.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
LAKE BUTLER - Union County schools opened on schedule Thursday morning with dozens of counselors on hand to help students and staff members deal with their grief in the aftermath of a crash that killed seven children.
"Our hearts are just broken," said Schools Superintendent Carlton Faulk.
The crash happened on State Road 121 as students were going home after school Wednesday afternoon. Those who died were in a car that had stopped behind a school bus to let children off on State Road 121. A tractor-trailer slammed into the back of the car, setting off a fire that led to the deaths of the seven in the car, and injuring nine children on the bus, in addition to the bus driver.
While an investigation into the accident continued Thursday, Faulk said the district decided it was best to get students back to school and into their usual routines.
"But we are encouraging them and our teachers and all our other employees to speak with counselors if they need to," Faulk said.
In several classes, teachers said they began by spending a few minutes talking to students about what had happened and then listening to the children's thoughts and reactions before moving on to the day's lessons.
Throughout the school day on Thursday, students at all three public schools - the high school, middle school and elementary school - were allowed to talk one-on-one with a counselor, a practice that is expected to continue through today. School officials said most students were in school Thursday and although many were subdued, the schools operated as normally as possible.
Before going to their first class Thursday morning, all high school students were sent to the auditorium for a few minutes to give teachers time to meet and hear details about the counseling available. At the auditorium doors, School Board members Sue Whitehead and Alvin Griffis greeted students - many by name - hugging those who were crying and patting the backs of others as they passed by.
"We are really still a small town and what hurts one of our students hurts all of them," Griffis said. "We are here so that the students know that we care about them, that all of us (in the community) care about them."
Following the faculty meeting, agriculture teacher Charlotte Emerson said the advice she got was to send distraught students to the counselors who had volunteered to come in from neighboring districts and area agencies.
"Unless you have a true rapport with a student, it makes it difficult to help them deal with something this bad," Emerson said. "We also had a word of prayer at our meeting, which was probably more effective than any practical advice."
High school senior Jill Peacock said praying was something that many of her friends on the cheerleading squad, in FFA, in student government and in several other groups that she belongs to had begun doing as soon as they heard about the fatal crash.
"We have been getting together to pray and lift each other up and thank God that it was no worse," Peacock said.
Peacock, Emerson and Faulk all described the Union County community and the schools as being filled with faithful people who regularly turned to prayer.
"Faith is the backbone of what this place is about," Emerson said.
Several students were holding or reading Bibles in the auditorium while waiting for the school day to begin. Others were reading The Sun or other published accounts about the crash. Some were simply sitting quietly.
"We need to learn to persevere though hard times because life is full of them," Peacock said.
The crash is something that will also provide the backdrop for future lessons in Emerson's agricultural communications class. Most days, the students in the class produce a live radio show, but that was canceled Thursday.
"We haven't addressed how to deal with emergency situations like this yet," Emerson said. "I think it's something we will probably cover and we will also be going over respect, honesty and reporting the truth, too."
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

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