President's Message

By Kelly Curtis, WSCA President

One of the many services provided by highly qualified school counselors, is support to students experiencing grief and loss.  Whether as a result of a tragedy or a long life, people are generally underequipped to handle the emotions that accompany a loss, and our skillset can be invaluable in assisting a student in their transition back to learning, and their family in seeking outside support.
Our ability to access resources ourselves can help us better support our students and their families, and we hope this issue of WSCAlink offers a few ideas.  Have a great start to the school year!


DPI – Trauma-Sensitive Schools:

Wisconsin SCENE groupsite and file cabinet:

Milwaukee area:  Mount Mary University is sponsoring a 5th Annual Grief Conference on Thursday, September 18, 2014, 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. For more information, contact Sandra Wolf at 414-805-2744 or

Topic of the Month:  Coping with death, grief and loss
Supporting Students Experiencing Grief and Loss
Written by By Brianne Mehlos WSCA Secondary Vice President
                        Rachel Berg WSCA Secondary Vice President Elect

Traumatic situations resulting in grief and loss arise all too often in schools. In our role within the building, many times school counselors are looked to first for support.  Two things that can be very useful in these situations are: having an understanding of the developmental stage of the student along with the typical grief response for that stage, and sharing that knowledge by educating others on how to support the grieving student.

It is helpful for staff and parents to understand how the developmental stage of the student will impact his/her experience of grief. School counselors can teach staff and parents what behaviors are to be expected and what behaviors need additional attention.
Developmental Stages of Understanding Death
Concept of Death
Grief Response
Signs of Distress
Possible Interventions
May not understand death
Will sense changes in the home
Will respond/react to emotions of adults
Change in sleeping or eating patterns
Reestablishment of routine
Comforting, holding
May see death as abandonment or punishment
Death is reversible, not permanent
May connect unrelated events to death
Very present oriented
Aware of change
Change in sleeping or eating patterns
Separation anxiety
Reestablishment of routine
Comforting, holding
Death is reversible, not permanent
May feel responsible for the death
“Magical thinking”
May see death as contagious
Repetitive questioning
May reenact death or the
funeral during play
Asks about loved one’s return
Change in sleeping or eating patterns
Violent play
Tries to take on the role of the person who died
Symbolic play
Art and drawing
Allow/encourage expression
of feelings
Death as punishment
Fears of bodily harm for themselves or others
Starting to understand the finality of death
Questions about specific
Concerns about normalcy in the grieving process
Some understanding of mourning
Fears loss of other loved ones
Problems in school
Withdrawal from friends
Change in sleeping or eating patterns
Suicidal thoughts
Concern with bodily
Answer questions honestly.
Encourage expression of feelings
Allow some alone time, but be available
Symbolic play
Death is universal, final and
Understands possibility of own
May try to care for others
May want to talk to friends, rather than family.
Intense anger or guilt
Acting out
Poor school performance
Encourage verbalization
Encourage self-motivation
Listen and be available
Do not attempt to “fix” child.
Many times, people can feel unsure of what to say or do when someone is grieving.  Handouts for staff that outline ideas such as, “Words that Can Help or Hurt” or “What to Say to a Grieving Child”,  can be appreciated when people are unsure of how to interact with a grieving student. Below are several examples:
Offering support to a grieving child can begin with a simple statement or open-ended question. Here are some conversation starters:
  • I’m sorry your mom/dad/sister died.
  • What was your dad/mom/brother like?
  • What is the hardest time of day for you?
  • I cannot know how you feel, but I remember how I felt when my __________ died.
  • Is there anything in the classroom you would like to change to feel more comfortable? 
  • Whenever you want to talk about it, I’m here for you.
The following are a few of the potentially harmful comments that are often offered to children grieving the loss of a loved one:
By understanding the developmental level of the student and sharing that information with other caring people in the student’s life, school counselors can be more effective in helping students who are experiencing grief and loss.
Resources for Counselors:
Resources for Parents:

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DPI Corner

Zero Tolerance: Tolerance Worthy?
Gregg Curtis; DPI School Counseling Consultant

National Context

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education and the Center for Safe and Responsive Schools 1, at least 75% of schools report having “zero tolerance” policies for such serious offenses as:

  • firearms (94%)
  • weapons other than firearms (91%)
  • alcohol (87%)
  • drugs (88%)
  • violence (79%)
  • tobacco (79%)
The term "zero tolerance" was initially defined as consistently enforced suspension and expulsion policies in response to weapons, drugs and violent acts in the school setting. However, in many states, zero tolerance has come to refer to school or district-wide policies that mandate pre-determined, (typically harsh) consequences or punishments (such as suspension and expulsion) for a wide degree of rule violation.
Problems with Zero Tolerance
These broad-stroke, non-discretionary zero tolerance policies are complex and costly. They represent ineffective educational practices for several reasons. Primarily, suspensions and expulsions remove students from the educational environment; an environment on which schools invest vast sums of resources to make as safe, supportive, and instructional as possible. Removal of students may set individuals already displaying antisocial behavior on an accelerated course to delinquency by putting them in a situation in which there is a lack of supervision and a greater opportunity to socialize with other deviant peers. Additionally, the lack of effective instruction experienced while under suspension or expulsion compromise learning and academic achievement; in many cases putting them progressively further behind their peers. This increasing achievement gap can marginalize students even more until they become completely disengaged.  Further, expulsion results in the denial of educational services, presenting specific legal as well as ethical dilemmas for student with disabilities. Finally, there is no evidence that removing students from school makes a positive contribution to school safety.
Other problems associated with zero tolerance policies include:2
  • Racial disproportionality: Black students receive more harsh punitive measures (suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment) and less mild discipline than their non-minority peers, even controlling for Socio-economic Status.
  • A greater negative impact on educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
  • Inconsistent application of zero tolerance policies, which often are not reserved exclusively for serious behaviors but applied indiscriminately to much lower levels of rule infraction.
  • An increasing national rate of suspensions and expulsions, even though school violence generally has been stable or declining.
  • Increasing the length of expulsion to two-year, three-year, or even permanent expulsion.
  • A high rate of repeat suspensions; which suggests suspension is ineffective in changing behavior for challenging students.
  • Elevated dropout rates related to the repeated use of suspension and expulsion
Wisconsin Context
While there is no official statutory title or provision for a zero tolerance approach, the legislature was required to adopt a mandatory expulsion law for any student in possession of a firearm on school grounds. That law was passed in 1995 and is codified in s. 120.13 Wis. Stats.  Thus, that requirement became the foundation for “zero tolerance policies” at the local level.  It remains the only “shall” or “must” expel, rather than “may”, in our state laws.
The state adopted s. 120.13 Wis. Stats as a requirement for continued receipt of federal education funds.  This adoption mirrors the same process the federal government used in requiring all states to raise their legal drinking ages to a uniform 21 years of age.  In that case federal highway dollars were the leverage to get states to change their statutes.  So “zero tolerance policies” have their root in federal requirements under the Gun Free School Act. Once enacted, however, some districts took it upon themselves to expand the zero tolerance idea to behaviors in schools unrelated to firearm possession; including smoking, drinking, bullying, fighting, etc.
That said. In recent years many districts have moved away from the mandatory, no-discretion punishments that had been required through their local district policies for an approach that allows administrators and school boards the ability to better weigh the circumstances and the interests of both the school and the students involved. An approach more sensitive to the circumstances of the student and the level of the infraction is becoming more popular in Wisconsin.
Reflective Questions
What does your district policy say?
What is a school counselor’s role in changing ineffective policy?
How do you develop and maintain the advocacy skills necessary to initiate systemic change?
1 Safe and Responsive Schools
2 Skiba, R. (2000). Zero tolerance, zero evidence: An analysis of school disciplinary practice (Policy Research Report #SRS2). Bloomington, IN: Indiana Education Policy Center. (available at:
*** Sections of this article are modifications gleaned from information from the NASP Zero Tolerance Fact Sheet. (Available at:

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Board Member Spotlight

Bobbie Johnson: Conference Committee Co-Chair (Sectionals)
Thanks to the leadership and encouragement of the incredible team of counselor educators at UW – Oshkosh, my involvement with WSCA began on the Graduate Student Committee, and quickly turned into a board position as the Graduate Student Representative. Upon graduating, I joined the Conference Committee, and as of this year, I have the privilege of serving as the Conference Committee Co-Chair. I am really looking forward to the year ahead and working with the many outstanding school counselors throughout Wisconsin (yes, I’m talking about you!) to continue providing some of the best professional development in the nation for school counselors. In addition to taking on this new role with WSCA, I have started my second year at Valley View Elementary School in the School District of Menomonee Falls, and my fifth year as a professional school counselor. I feel very fortunate to be involved with WSCA because with each year comes more professional development, networking, resources, and new friendships, all of which help me to continue growing so I can better serve my students. Have a great start to the new school year, and we will see you all at the WSCA Conference in February!
Nate Rice: Government Relations Chair
I am excited to introduce myself as the incoming Government Affairs Committee Chair. I am passionate about school counseling and believe we need to continue to share the good news about what we do for students and families with our school boards, administrators, teachers, and families. However, if we limit our advocacy to these important folks, we are missing another key partner, elected officials. The Government Affairs Committee is tasked by the WSCA Board to be the conduit to organize our members and advocate for our profession at the state and federal level.
My overarching goal for the Government Affairs Committee is to keep the membership informed about government action that could impact our profession and build on past momentum to create a statewide network of school counselors who would consider contacting their elected officials when a critical issue emerges about which we want to respond.
One of the ways you can get started would be to participate in WSCA Day on the Hill. This exciting event has become a cornerstone of the annual conference. I would love to have you participate! Come learn how to effectively advocate for the profession you love and put it to practice under the dome! This inspiring session will provide an overview of how to get your message out to your legislators about what you do, the difference you make, and how they can help support our mission. Following the interactive training session, we will walk to the Capitol where you will be scheduled to meet your respective legislators. This event is an outstanding opportunity for professional leadership and advocacy. Over the years, our presence on the Hill has paid, and will continue to pay, dividends for WSCA and all school counselors statewide! Join us, and keep the positive momentum growing!!
In the meantime, if you would like to serve on the Government Affairs Committee and/or be added to our growing statewide network of school counselors who would be willing to reach out to their elected officials in the future, please contact me right away at or 262-893-3880. Thank you for your time and best wishes for a rewarding school year.

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Upcoming Events & Announcements

The Search for 2015 Conference Presenters…

Have you ever considered presenting at the WSCA conference, but something got in the way? Perhaps you became too busy or the nerves set in and you started questioning yourself? You’re not alone. Why not make 2015 your year? The sectional sessions are the heart and soul of our annual conference.
To continue the conference’s rich tradition of providing outstanding professional development, the Conference Committee needs practicing school counselors to share their expertise and best practices by submitting sectional proposals. Following the conference each year, we receive feedback from our members, and each year school counselors are asking for more sectionals presented by practicing school counselors. To do this, we need YOUR help! Presenting a sectional at the WSCA conference not only is a great way to give back to your profession and share your hard work with those who are eager to learn, but it can also be a very rewarding experience for you both personally and professionally.

Click Here to Download the 2015 Call for Sectional Programs (PDF) - Deadline 11/14/14

Register Today!  WSCA October Fall Summit, generously sponsored and hosted at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau. The day of learning and work time will be Thursday, October 23, 2014.

New Topics: Option one will be focused on Mental Health. In the morning, Dr. Michael I. Axelrod will be presenting “Helping Children Overcome Anxiety: An Introduction to Therapeutic Techniques and Evidence-based Strategies.” In the afternoon we will be discussing satellite mental health clinics co-located in schools – an amazing partnership that makes mental health services more accessible to students. Option 2 will be a WSCPAR work and feedback session.

Where: North Central Technical College, Wausau, WI
           1000 W. Campus Dr., Wausau, WI 54401

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014 from 9:00a.m.-4:00p.m. (includes lunch)
Register by 9/30/14 to receive our early bird discount
For more information & to register, check or contact Paula Haugle at

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WSCA would like your ideas regarding membership benefits

Please answer sixteen (16) questions which will take 15 minutes to complete.  Your responses will be reviewed by the WSCA Governing Board to enhance WSCA member benefits.  The survey closes on September 12, 2014.  In appreciation of your time, please enter the drawing for a $25 gift card at the end of the survey!

To access the survey follow this link:

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September 2014

President's Message
By Kelly Curtis

Topic of the Month:
Coping with death, grief and loss

Upcoming Events & Announcements