TRAVERSE CITY — Tracy Hobbs knows bad news usually follows when his telephone rings.
The school psychologist and his crisis response team at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District were there after a bomb threat evacuated Grand Traverse Academy. They were in Glen Lake after a student died in a car crash.
They arrived in Buckley less than an hour after students learned freshman Destiny Baynton died earlier this month. And they’ll soon head to Kalkaska to support the district after 17-year-old Damen Huffman was found dead at his home last week.
“It’s about creating a culture of response in these districts so there is a plan,” said TBAISD Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Carol Greilick. “We hope to never have to follow that plan but it’s inevitable. It’s about being prepared.”
Eleven social workers and psychologists recently trained in PREPaRE — an acronym for a nationally renowned curriculum designed to support various crisis response activities — account for about 80 percent of Michigan’s certified trainers. And tragedy is their specialty.
“It’s always been my passion to work with the schools, students and families that we serve,” Hobbs said, recognizing that catastrophe isn’t always the most desirable working condition. “But responding to a crisis is vitally important and we provide great assistance in that way.”
The ISD invested about $15,000 for the team to earn their certification through three workshops during the past two years.
The protocol is systematic: The team helps districts (P) prevent and prepare for psychological trauma; (R) reaffirm physical health and perceptions of security; (E) evaluate psychological trauma risks; (P) provide interventions; (R) respond to needs and (E) examine the effectiveness of the initiative.
Glen Lake Superintendent Sander Scott said the curriculum is a godsend for his district. Larger schools like those in Traverse City often have far more employees available to help than smaller districts like his or Buckley — which allows the program to help fill a gap for many schools in the region.
“Having that expertise at the ISD level for the locals allows us to really get trained and develop expertise that we might not always have at our fingertips,” Scott said.
But Hobbs and his colleagues aren’t always waiting for calamity to strike.
School Psychologist Elizabeth Maciag spends her time evaluating students for learning disabilities and crafting instructional supports for special education teachers. But she knows that her schedule could upend the moment something more pressing requires her attention.
“I think anytime there is a tragedy — and that’s inevitable — the most psychologically healthy thing you can do is to mitigate that as soon as possible,” Maciag said, noting that the support system aims to align the district and other community supports for a consistent and reliable response.
And that cohesiveness is set to grow stronger next year.
Greilick said ISD officials want to offer training workshops to officials at each of the region’s 16 school districts so they can develop their own, in-house response teams. She estimates the project could take shape next summer. The team will continue traveling to provide support in the meantime.
“You never necessarily want to work with tragedy,” Maciag said. “But if you can make a difference — even for one person — than it’s all worth it.”