"I met with them early that morning and then we separated the baseball team into one room and took the other kids who were affected into the library," said Sylmar baseball coach Gary Donatella. "A lot of those kids had never experienced death or dying and the crisis team was able to put them at ease."
The baseball team talked with psychologists for the first two hours of the day, expressing their concerns for Ryan's family and for the other two teammates who were involved in the accident but received only minor injuries.
"The psychologists did a great job of getting the kids to open up and talk about their feelings and make them understand that they aren't alone in their grief," Donatella said.
In each incident, students and teachers at the Valley schools affected received what Aronin calls "psychological first aid."
Aronin said that although the district has always had psychologists on staff, it wasn't until 1985, after the 49th Street School shooting, that they began to plan for crisis intervention.
Initially, the crisis team was geared toward treating children in the aftermath of a major earthquake, but it has instead been used to deal with the loss of students through accidental or violent death.
The Los Angeles Unified School District crisis plan is being used as a model for other school districts in the state. Representatives from several other districts met with Aronin and his staff March 29 at a psychological services convention in Irvine.
"Now that we can see it working, other school districts want to have a similar plan ready in case of an emergency or sudden tragedy," Aronin said.
Every school in the district has a crisis team assigned to it, Aronin said. The team is made up of the school principal, nurse, counselor, senior teachers and the staff psychologist. Not every school has a full-time psychologist, but the district employs 340 psychologists, many of whom are assigned to several schools. Thirty-two of the psychologists have attained senior status and are able to handle severe problems or a crisis involving several children.
The crisis teams for the entire district are managed and operated out of the district's central psychological services office in Reseda, at the former site of Newcastle Elementary School.
Aronin and other officials working out of the Reseda office have spent the past five years training crisis teams through seminars and developing the district's psychological first aid manual. The manual gives advice on how to identify severe emotional problems and teaches crisis team members how to get the children to express their feelings.
In general, the team members encourage students to express their feelings, then offer constructive ways to deal with the tragedy. In the case of the Reseda woman who killed her three children before commiting suicide, psychologists urged students to come up with different ways the woman could have handled her problems.
At Cleveland High, psychologist Barbara Valastro helped students who were on the drill team with Brandy Fernandez to think about services people can turn to, to help them cope with problems, such as a welfare office, church groups, and mental health clinics that are available for people in need.
"They needed to talk about their feelings and realize that there are positive ways to deal with depression," Valastro said.
Junior high and high school students also were given information about death, funeral services, appropriate ways to express sorrow to the student's family, and ways to memorialize the student, such as the tree-planting at Darby School.
"Sometimes it's just a matter of telling a student how to go to the florist and send flowers to the funeral home," Aronin said. "A lot of them have never done something like that and it makes them feel they've done something positive."
The psychologists and crisis team members who are not on staff at the school stay with students until there is no longer a need for their services, Aronin said.
"The important thing is that every school is covered with a crisis team and a psychologist for the immediate psychological first aid," Aronin said. "Then, depending on the need, additional crisis team members and psychologists can be sent in."
Each of the recent incidents required additional time from senior psychologists who are able to deal with students who are more deeply troubled. Aronin said it is ideal when the entire team is sent out before school starts on the morning after a crisis.
Senior psychologist Vera Taylor was at home Sunday afternoon when she received a call from Aronin notifying her of Paul's murder. She immediately phoned members of the Darby Street crisis team, calling an early morning meeting before school Monday.
"Several psychologists and the school's crisis team met in the auditorium that morning," Taylor said. "We talked to the teachers and told them how to factually instruct the children about what happened to Paul."