Commemoration and Memorialization
“What we ended up doing…is asking for input from the children. Because sometimes adults do things that they think children want, when in truth of fact the children do not want that, or they want something different. We ended up having a get-together in the morning where people had a moment of silence and could have their moments together as a group, and then the rest of the day was devoted…towards volunteer service in honor of those people who were killed and those who were injured.” (School Superintendent)
Memorial and commemorative activities can be helpful to students and staff. This module provides guidance on issues to consider in planning and carrying out such activities within a school setting after a member of the school community has died. Topics addressed include the importance of actively including students in planning memorial activities, how to respond to spontaneous memorials, and the role of social media.
Here are steps schools can take to ensure school commemorations are useful for students.
- Keep the purpose in mind. Memorial activities are one way to help students express and cope with difficult feelings. Students realize they are not alone in having strong feelings. They can draw on support of peers and adults and begin to find meaning in the loss.
- Include students in planning. When adults carry out all of the planning, the events tend to be helpful for the adults rather than the students.
- Set appropriate precedents. Deaths can occur in many different ways. Choose commemorative activities that can be applied fairly and consistently in any circumstance.
- Avoid permanent memorials. Avoid legacy memorials such as plaques or tree plantings. These markers may be vandalized or fall into disrepair. In communities with high rates of violence, markers for students who have died may be viewed by peers as a body count.
- Monitor spontaneous memorials. Remove inappropriate material promptly (e.g., alcohol bottles, drug paraphernalia, negative comments about the deceased or other students). Work with students to move the location if the materials block hallways or exits. Discuss with them how long the memorial will be in place—usually a few days to a week. Plan what will happen to the materials that have been placed there.