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    A Letter from Principal Smith to Rainier Beach Families
    Posted on 05/13/2020

    May 13, 2020


    Dear Rainier Beach Families:

    I am sorry to be reaching out to you to share some tragic information during an already stressful time.  As a school leader, it saddens me to have to send another letter regarding the death of a young person from our community.  One of our recent 2019 graduates, Conner Dassa-Holland, has died. Some of your children may have known him and/or his family members, so they may have questions. Out of respect for the family, I won’t be sharing any additional information. However, I want to let you know that despite the fact that we are not physically at school, we are still here to support students and each other during this difficult time and to share some ways that you may help your children.

    On Thursday, May 14 Advisory Teachers will be holding Grief Support Circles during Advisory. This time will allow students and staff to come together as a community to begin to process this loss and other losses, to talk about the feelings that we are all having, to share ways in which we cope with loss and other tragic events, to identify ways to support each other, and to talk about how we can come together as a school during this time of social distancing.

    Each culture has its own way of dealing with death and unexpected tragic events, and we encourage you to talk with your children about their ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Parents and guardians have important roles in helping students understand and cope with such tragic events. We recognize that even if your child may not have known or been close to the family whose child died, they may still feel a strong reaction. Talking about the incident can be a healthy way for families to process their feelings and reactions to an event of this nature. We believe that it is important to understand and respect each child’s experience.

    The following links can provide helpful guidance in these difficult conversations:

    Here are some suggestions for how to help students cope:

    • Maintain a normal routine.
    • Answer questions factually.
    • Remain calm and reassuring. Students take their cues from their parents and adults.
    • Be a good listener and observer. Pay attention to changes in behavior.
    • Notice when children and teens have questions and want to talk.
    • Be especially loving and supportive; children and teens need you even more at this time.
    • Take care of yourself. You are better able to help your child if you are coping well.

    Now might also be a time to have your children identify other trusted adults in their lives that they can reach out to for support.  In addition, if your child has been thinking about or is currently working with a therapist or counselor, this might be a good time to connect with those supports.  Should you need contact information for community agencies that provide mental health and substance use services, the Rainier Beach School Based-Health Center, or crisis support you can let me or other staff at the school know or you can find that information on the Seattle Public Schools website here.

    The death of a student or former student is an event you are never fully prepared for as a school leader. Each student is part of the extended Rainier Beach family. Our community is close and despite not being physically present with each other, having a tragedy such as this reminds me that we are all in this together.  We have a strong school community at Rainier Beach High School, and we will be here for each other. If you have any questions or need additional support, please reach out to me.


    Keith Smith