By Nancy Gutierrez

In just three years the students in Exeter Public schools have experienced the loss of six of their own.

It began when Exeter Union High School Senior Adam Cox lost his battle with Leukemia in January of 2001. Then in July of that same year 16-year-old Joanna Hellwig was killed in a traffic accident on the corner of Belmont and Marionette. In 2003 two seperate traffic accidents, one in March the other in July, took the lives of graduate Casey Goodwin and senior Travis Anderson. In May of that same year 16-year-old Alex Montoya died of cancer. The start of 2004 brought the tragic death of Casey's brother, 16-year-old Kyle Goodwin. Very few small towns have endured the loss of so many of its youth in such a small time frame and along with the family members those hardest hit are the friends and classmates who return to a routine that is no longer complete.

School officials, understanding the confusion and loss that students must be feeling, have made more readily available the district psychologist Aimee Miculian, school counselor Glen Drake as well as several other counselors at various school sites.

"There are short term counselors at the high school and long term counselors available who the students can talk to about their grief," Miculian said.

She said the grieving process varies for different people but most often people experience shock, denial, anger or depression.

"It is common for a person to go back and forth between these feelings. Acceptance can take months or years," she said.

But Miculian adds that though a person is grieving, the feelings they are experiencing should not affect their everyday functions. She said red flags to look for include an inability to go to school or work, a change in their performance in activities and a drastic change in behavior.

"It's normal to feel sad but if they are not functioning or if there is a drastic change in behavior then that's an important sign," Miculian said.

If a child is not verbally expressing heir grief Miculian advises parents to talk to their child's friends to see if they've noticed a drastic change as well. It is important that those affected talk to counselors. Exeter Union High School Vice Principal and head counselor Bruce Brandt said some students have already sought help through the school.

"We have counselors available specifically this week [Jan. 5-9] and we are paying attention to the status of those students we know were close friends of Kyle," Brandt said. "We hope the students take advantage of the people we have on campus."

In some cases the school will refer students to outside agencies like the Sequoia Youth services, a clinic that provides mental health services to children either at the clinic, located in Exeter, or at the school site.

Maribel Resendez, a therapist with Sequoia Youth Services echoed Miculian's advice that though sadness, anger and even difficulty eating are normal, extreme cases of these actions are not normal. Binge eating or deprivation of food, sleeping less than two hours a night or 15 hours in a day are signs that a person needs additional help. Resendez encourages parents to call Sequoia Youth Services if they have noticed extreme behavior in their child.

"The best thing to do is know your own limits and lead that person to someone who knows what to do," Resendez said. "The only wrong thing a person could do is ignore the signs."

To contact Sequoia Youth Services call 627-1490. Their after-hours hotline is 730-992.

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