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School administrators work to help students through recent deaths of classmates

Albert Lea Area Schools administrators and staff are utilizing various resources to provide support to students and staff after the deaths of three students since the beginning of the school year.

On Thursday, the district posted on its website the death of 16-year-old Job Sanchez, who reportedly died Wednesday from complications with pneumonia not tied to COVID-19. 

Superintendent Mike Funk said ministers were available for staff and students Thursday morning and are available for followup as needed.

Two additional deaths took place at the end of August in 12-year-old Maddie Mann, who died after an ATV crash, and Jimmy Amarosa III, who died as a result of a car crash near Glenville.

“We ask that everyone keep the students’ families, our students, staff and the Albert Lea community in their thoughts and prayers during these difficult times,” the district wrote in its website. “The students and staff will react in different ways to the death of one of our school community members. We all should expect and try to understand that there will be a variety of emotions and responses to what has occurred. The most important thing we can do is to be supportive and encourage the open expression of feelings.”

Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus said because each of the three deaths has been different, school staff have approached each situation differently but following a general model.

In the case of Maddie’s death, high school staff notified the students after the crash because her sister attends the high school, Grossklaus said. As soon as there is family confirmation on the passing of a student, the school follows a process of informing staff, students and families. They reach out to community resources, such as local ministers and Youth for Christ’s The Rock, and let students know that school staff is available to support them.

A guidance counselor and social worker meet with individual students following deaths based on the student’s needs, and teachers can also refer struggling students to support staff as necessary. Support staff also provide families with outside resources that the student and family can turn to for additional support through Freeborn County Children’s Mental Health, South Central Mobile Crisis Team, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Southwest Middle School Principal Chris Dibble said his school used the advisory classes as the first level of support following Maddie’s death.

He said students watched a video he made, and then the teachers had conversations with their students. Social workers were on call for any students who needed extra support.

Albert Lea Area Learning Center Principal Johanna Thomas said her school supported students following Jimmy’s death through school social workers and counselors and will continue to do so moving forward.

Students needing additional resources can consider the following:

Freeborn County Children’s Mental Health: 507-377-5400

South Central Mobile Crisis Team: 877-399-3040

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255

Txt4Life (Minnesota Department of Human Services): Text “Life” to 61222

Albert Lea High School Counseling Office: 407-379-5354