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Teacher's Assistant at Lone Dell Turns Personal Loss Into Student's Gain

For Lone Dell Teacher's Assistant Robin Turnbough, this elementary school is her happy place. 

"Just being here helps me put a positive spin on things," Turnbough admits. 

Not long ago, tragedy struck Turnbough's family - and her Lone Dell family stepped up. 

"I've gone through some big challenges since I've been here. I lost my husband, and I cannot express enough how wonderful everyone was, and the report that I received,” says Turnbough. 

"To be able to support her and get her through that, we didn't even have to think about it," explains Paul Tramel, Principal at Lone Dell. "Everybody constantly asked what can I do, what can I do?"

That support inspired Turnbough to start a new club at the school to help children who have lost their parents or guardians. When she went to school administrators with the idea, the response was almost immediate. 

“When do we start? What do you need? What can I do to help this the best that it can possibly be?,” Tramel recalls of the conversation. “When somebody has an idea like that, we’re going to run with it. It was the easiest sell in the world, she didn’t have to say much more, because I know where her heart is, and what she is wanting to do is for good.”

While the group is for any student at Lone Dell, Turnbough knew of a handful of children that she would like to help immediately.

"We have a specific group of kids that are now in fifth grade, and there were so many of them that had lost a parent,” Turnbough explains. “The basis of the club was to build those relationships with others who have experienced the same thing. I saw my own kid go through this and I really wanted the other students to know that they're not alone." 

"To recognize the need that exists with our students and to be able to do more for these kids, you can't say enough about who she is as a person," Tramel adds. "To pour her all into it, and to use her tragedy for good - she's the best." 

The club is aptly named the ‘Support Squad’ and they meet about a dozen times a year. 

“We do activities and things to help promote communication,” Turnbough says. “I’m not a counselor, but I want them to know that there are others who are experiencing all of these things and all of these emotions just like they are and it’s not something that goes away. In ten years, they’re still going to have some feelings and emotions, and I want them to know about a positive way to deal with those things when they come up, so that’s what we try to focus on.” 

To this point, the group has received nothing but great feedback from students and their guardians. 

“The resounding response from everyone involved is that it has been nothing but positive,” says Tramel. “There is a period where the students have to get comfortable. They have to get comfortable with Robin and with other people sharing. As they open up, you can see the growth that’s happening, and those that weren’t talking originally, they’re sharing. They’re building each other up, and that’s exactly what you’re looking for, is for them to understand that there is a support system out there to make sure that they can lean on each other when they’re going through rough patches.” 

The ‘Support Squad’ currently consists of about 8-12 students, and it’s certainly a unique offering that cannot be found just anywhere. 

“From a student’s perspective talking to adults about it seems more natural, so there was a period at first of ‘how do we communicate about this with a peer?’ Kids are still learning all of these things and how to open up, and share things about how you feel, it’s not an easy thing,” Tramel explains. “To do that with a peer requires a lot, but Robin being who she is, showed them what it looked like, and they leaned on her. Now they can talk to each other and that makes it unique, and a different type of support system that most kids don’t have access to. It’s a different sort of therapy, if you will.”

As these ‘Support Squad’ students get older and move along to middle school, they will still have each other to lean on. Meanwhile, Turnbough and Tramel intend to keep the program going at Lone Dell as long as there is a need.

“In a perfect world of course, we wouldn’t need a group like this, but we know that there is always going to be trauma, there are always going to be tragedies that occur in these students' lives,” Tramel admits. “You can’t shield them from everything but you need to build them up, and we’re not just here to give them an education; that’s our purpose yes, but on these sorts of things we have to be able to teach kids how to deal with things when they go badly, whatever that may look like in their life. That way they can deal with it, handle it, and be productive members of society. We do that because we are a family. Of course, with family things sometimes it's not always great, but the love and support and the rallying around each other that we do here is second to none."

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