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Published: Tuesday, 9/19/2006

Students counseled after Perrysburg tragedy


There were lots of hugs yesterday at Toth Elementary School in Perrysburg, Principal Beth Johnson-Christoff said.

A school psychologist and guidance counselors from throughout the district were dispatched to Toth for support following the death Saturday of 5-year-old Colin Siebenaler, a kindergarten student at the school.

Colin was hit and killed by a car driven by his grandmother, Mary Wehde, 71, outside his Tricia Court home in Perrysburg.

She was not hurt and no charges had been filed as of yesterday.

According to Ms. Johnson-Christoff, Colin's teacher, Maribeth Connor, called the parents of his classmates over the weekend so they could tell their children of the tragedy.

Many of those parents accompanied their children to school yesterday.

Ms. Johnson-Christoff said Mrs. Connor read stories from a book about death and answered questions from her class. Parents remained in class most of the morning.

Jane Wendt, a psychologist in the Perrysburg school system who is assigned to Toth, said a few students spoke individually with staff members, though more may have questions as time passes.

She said additional staff will be available to students for at least the rest of the week.

"I think people have pulled together really well," Mrs. Wendt said.

A prepared statement regarding Colin's death was read by teachers in every classroom. Each student received a letter and other materials on death to take home and discuss with their parents.

Mrs. Wendt said it is important parents and teachers understand how a child deals with it when someone close to them dies.

"When a child is 5 or 6 years old, he or she might not understand the permanency of death," Mrs. Wendt said.

"Parents need to understand a child's thought process is more magical in order to understand what questions they may ask," she said.

Mrs. Wendt said children go through the same basic grieving process as adults, expressing feelings of denial, anger, sadness, and fear.

She said the difference is children may experience these feelings at a more rapid rate, laughing one minute and becoming angry or upset the next.

Mrs. Wendt said it is important to help children understand it is normal to have these emotions, but to also create as regular of an atmosphere for them as possible.

She said that after teachers talked to their students about Colin's death in the morning, they tried to turn their students' attention toward the day's lesson plans.

"I think people were afraid before to talk about death with kids," Mrs. Wendt said.

"If it becomes a hush-hush scenario, children get the message that it's not OK to be open about their own feelings," the psychologist said.

"They need to know it's OK to feel what they're feeling and that it's OK for things to go back to normal. It helps them feel safe," she said.

Contact Joe Vardon at:

jvardon@theblade.com or


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