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Hewlett-Woodmere faces grief after tragedy

School district provides students with counseling


After Hewlett High School sophomore John Sabu was struck and killed by a Long Island Rail Road train at the Hewlett station on Sept. 6, the Hewlett-Woodmere School District rallied to help by providing counseling for its students.

“Postvention” workshops were held for the entire student body on Sept. 25 and 26. Postvention is a process that helps people cope with a loss. “Last week, the LI Crisis Center met with all students in grades 9-12 for a period in length presentation that informed students of the services and support opportunities available to them and others,” Hewlett High Principal William Galati wrote in an Oct. 1 email. “Our trained professionals will also continue to be available to all students to support their emotional well-being as they grieve and whenever they feel they need additional support.

“The District Personnel Pupil Services staff immediately made themselves available to meet with students over the weekend and throughout the following weeks,” Galati added. “School social workers and school psychologists visited all physical education classes to speak with students and let them know that they are available to them at any time should they need support.”

On Sept. 11, five days after Sabu’s death, Galati sent a letter to high school students’ parents and guardians that explained why the school building was open the weekend after the tragedy. “Opening the building allowed our administrators and Pupil Personnel Services team an opportunity to plan for our students’ return to school,” he wrote. “An essential component of the planning that took place over the weekend was to identify the students and staff that may be the most impacted by this tragedy.”

At the school district’s Board of Education work meeting held the same day the Galati’s letter was released, board President Mitchell Greebel acknowledged how difficult it is for any district to address a student’s death. “You can be working in education for a long time and never have to deal with this,” he said. “You can say you’re prepared for it. But when it happens, who knows how prepared you are.”

Laura Campbell, director of education for the Long Island Crisis Center, hosted an educational workshop for Hewlett High faculty and staff on Sept. 10, and explained what she hopes to accomplish with the workshops. “We go in and speak to the students and staff in an effort to relate to what they’re going through,” she said. “We also remind the students to look out for each other and, most importantly, take care of themselves. You’re not selfish for doing that.” Campbell added that grieving students should remember to eat properly and take mental breaks by engaging in activities they enjoy.

According to the crisis center’s website, it offers community education workshops in schools, agencies and community centers on a variety of topics pertaining to today’s youth. “You should be patient with the students throughout the process, since they all process things differently,” she said. “Some students will express their feelings on social media and be open about their thoughts. Some students choose not to.”

Campbell added that it is OK for students to post on social media during a crisis, but they should be aware of what others post about the circumstances. “Social media can be great during the grieving process,” she said. “But students should be aware that some things that are posted by others are not true.”

According to Campbell, the most important thing the crisis center does is offer a helping hand to young people. “When we visit schools, we want students to know that they can lean on us for help,” she said. “Reaching out for help is a strength. There is nothing weak about it.”

John Sabu’s older brother, Jacob, established a scholarship fund in John’s honor. The scholarship will be awarded to a Hewlett High School student who excels in one of Sabu’s two favorite pursuits, history or fencing. Sabu was described as a “passionate history scholar.” He was also a starter on the school’s fencing team as a freshman.

More than 100 donors had raised nearly $13,500 for the scholarship on GoFundMe as of press time. “To honor John’s memory, we, his family and friends, wish to award an annual scholarship in his name for students who excel in history or fencing,” Jacob wrote in the GoFundMe description. “We wish to leave a positive and lasting impact on the students of Hewlett High School.”

Donations to Sabu’s scholarship fund can be made at https://bit.ly/2mpZ8Ks.