St. John Schools hire trauma counselors

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish Schools recently hired six displaced mental health professionals to assist with the district’s need for student counseling and post-trauma intervention.

St. John Parish Schools Director of Special Education Diane Brown Ph.D., said that every child is different and might react differently to the current situation.

“Children might act our their anxieties differently, but it’s important to remember that these children are afraid and their feelings are real,” Brown said. “We must find ways to comfort them and reassure them.”

Among the six displaced mental health professionals hired, are School Psychologist Cindy Ferrara-Riedl and her partner social worker Ann Koloski, who both formerly worked for the Orleans Parish School System.

“We share ideas about how to deal with the concerns caused by the hurricane,” Ferrara-Riedl said. “We let them know that their feeling of depression, fear and anxiety are normal feelings.”

The children share their feelings and stories with the counselors and draw pictures, as well as speak of frequent nightmares or ailments, such as stomach pains and eating disorders they have experienced since Hurricane Katrina, according to Ferrara-Riedl.

“Clearly the school system needed the extra help, and we were available,” said Koloski. “But, by being in the same situation as the children we are counseling, we’ve been able to have a special relationship with these children, and they open up to us better.”

Brown said the school system is being assisted by mental health professionals from LSU’s Health Service Center, with a $2 million grant from the Louisiana Rural Trauma Services Center.

The grant was awarded last year providing intensive therapy sessions for children in the first through third grades in the parish with social and emotional needs.

“Life is not back to normal for so many,” Brown said. “Many people are still out of their homes, they are living with relatives or friends, and some may never return to where they once lived. Still, others are dealing with the loss of a parents or a loved one. Lots of people need help to cope with all that’s happened.”