When tragedy strikes a Columbus school, Cheryl L. Ward goes into action.

When tragedy strikes a Columbus school, Cheryl L. Ward goes into action.

As the district's supervisor of student and family engagement, she can call on a team of 130 school counselors, around 70 social workers and another 70 or so Positive Efforts for Adjustment and Knowledge instructional assistants to help students and staff members cope.

"Care team" members usually have only hours to assess and respond to a situation. Shootings. Suicides. Vehicle accidents. Cancer deaths. The cases involve both students and staff members.

"Typically, I get the call when the event is going to alter significantly the normal day routine, so that the impact is going to be intense enough that teachers or the regular staff are not going to be able to support the incident as well as maintain instruction," Ward said.

Columbus City Schools sent out care teams 17 times last school year and has dispatched them several times so far this year. One incident occurred in September, when a car struck and killed an 11-year-old boy on Karl Road as he walked to Woodwark Park Middle School. Another care team went to Whetstone High School on Nov. 17, about 10 days after a 17-year-old student took her own life.

"I got the call shortly after it occurred," Ward said of the Woodward Park incident. She put out a call to staff members in the district's northwest quadrant, telling them: "Hey, I'm going to have to put you on notice. I may need you at Woodward Park."

Then she headed to the school to assess the situation. She gets the facts, reaches out to the family of the victim, and talks to employees about how she can support them.

Teams also were sent to Northland High School several times in 2015 to help in the wake of three student deaths in a two-month period.

Ward said she typically sends counselors and other care-team members to a school from nearby buildings, but in the case of the Northland cluster of tragedies, she had to call in some from farther away to avoid burning out those who participated in the earlier crises.

"The goal is to be able to give them some space, help them be able to process and they can get back in the class," Ward said. "We've had a few people in some of our cases come down a few times throughout the day."

The string of shooting victims at Northland was traumatic, Principal Jason Johnson said.

"The grieving process is interesting because it affects individuals in such personal ways," he said. "Some young people, it took several days to kind of get that fog lifted. Some staff members took it to heart because they knew the young people personally. Just the day before, they were sitting in that seat doing math problems, and the next day they're not there."

Zyshonne Dupri Jenkins, 16, was killed in January 2015 at East Livingston and Dellwood avenues after exchanging gunfire with another person.

In November 2015, Tykeem Eskridge, 16, died in what police described as an exchange of gunfire on Woodland Avenue. About a week later, Aries Green, a 17-year-old truant from school, was found dead along a footpath in woods near East 25th Avenue and Billiter Boulevard in South Linden. He had been shot multiple times.

A team returned to the school in January this year when Aboubakary Sidiki Diawara, 15, was shot dead in his front yard near Cleveland Avenue and Route 161.

"To have one after the other after the other, the real question was: What are we going to do?" Johnson said.

"I was kind of scared," recalled Northland junior Jaelyn Shaw, 16. "I don't want this to be something I get used to. I was just kind of scared for other people around me, like, this is going to happen again."

"It changed my whole life," junior Kayla White, 16, said. "It just made me realize people can really be gone in the blink of an eye."

It's difficult to know what to do to help others, Jones said.

"There's no handbook to that," he said. "There's no set of rules to what you do when something like that happens. Like parents when you go home, there's no right, mature thing to say to your child when they notice how easy it is for a life to be taken away from them.

"I felt like Northland came closer together," Jones said. "Everybody has their issues. You know, some people don't like others. But like during these times, I felt like everybody was able to put their issues aside and just be there for one another."

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