The ‘quiet angels’ that helped Enoch schools through tragedy

Feb 7, 2023, 5:34 PM | Updated: Feb 12, 2024, 6:00 pm

Students at Canyon View Middle School in Cedar City will transition to online learning on Monday an...

Students at Canyon View Middle School in Cedar City will transition to online learning on Monday and Tuesday. (Iron County School District)

(Iron County School District)

ENOCH, Utah — When a family was killed in Enoch, Utah, five of the eight people killed were children and students. While all eyes were on family members and first responders, schools dealt quietly with five empty desks.

The Haight children, believed to be killed by their father, were identified as a 4-year-old boy, a 7-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl; a 12-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl. Although nothing can be done to change what happened on Jan. 4, communities are finding ways to heal by doing good and looking for the good.

Iron county School District is one of those communities. Healing and hope are beginning to take place through simple acts of service by ordinary people, or what one Enoch educator called, “quiet angels.”

Responding to a student death

Shauna Lund, Communications & Foundation Coordinator for Iron County School District, explained the school’s response to a major tragedy or traumatic event like this one. 

First, a crisis intervention team met the night of the event and planned what the response would be at schools the following day. Every counselor in the school district along with mental health therapists were made aware of what had happened and given some talking points and things to consider for the next day.

Shauna Lund meets with KSL TV on zoom from her office in Iron County.

“Many of the teachers were made aware the night before, especially those closest to the students and then the entire faculty was asked to meet in the morning so they could talk through things, and just be prepared for what was going to happen the next day,” Lund said. 

Teachers are taught skills and given protocols of how to handle the days following a student death and how to check in with students who might be struggling.

Let them know that there’s somebody there: a caring adult who could help them. Then maybe ask them if they want to go see a counselor and maybe talk through some things,” Lund said. “Just to teach that it’s okay to be saddened. It’s okay to show your grief and even it’s okay to not understand why this happened and to show and model the behavior that they, too, as teachers, and as adults: we don’t understand either, and sometimes we’re sad and we have a hard time expressing our grief as well.”

Beyond the logistics, Iron County School District was a recipient of quiet service, people noticing needs and creating solutions. 

Wellness Rooms

One of those organizations was the Cedar City Rotary Club.

“We recognized that students, teachers, those individuals were heavily impacted by this tragedy, so we went to the members of this club who are involved and said ‘what can we do?'” Tessa Douglas, Rotary Club President of Cedar City said. 

Tessa Douglas is President of the Cedar City Rotary Club, the second biggest Rotary Club in the state.

Douglas said that they wanted to make sure they were putting their effort into something meaningful and impactful, that would be more of an ongoing solution.

So we asked them go go back to the district, go back to the superintendent and to the teachers and find out what could really be helpful,” Douglas said. “So they came back with a few ideas and one of those was the wellness rooms they already had, could really use more supplies and so our board actually voted to fund a pretty big donation to those just this week.”

As schools have increased their emphasis on student mental health, several schools have developed “wellness rooms,” rooms provided for student who may need a mental or emotional break.

“They’re calming rooms that have lighting and comfortable areas to sit in and then some manipulatives (sensory toys),  different things, books. It’s sometimes just a place to go and sit for a student to kind of get back to a good place where they can go back and learn,” Lund said.  “They’re used in all different ways and then there’s specialists in those rooms that are there to talk to the student help them with some things talk to them about ‘What’s going on? What are you feeling?'”

Lund said in 2018, Iron County School District saw the need to increase mental health therapists in schools.

“We have at least a part-time person in every school and I think those wellness rooms have come about from those individuals being in the schools as well and seeing a need for a place like that,” Lund said.

Those therapists are often in the wellness rooms to help kids who may be struggling.

The district asked for books, especially emotional regulation books, things about behavioral health, stress balls, fidget toys, sensory related toys, squeeze toys, monkey noodles, bilateral tappers and then basic furniture for the rooms.

“Probably the school just hasn’t had funding to put towards that because there’s more immediate needs. Those would be nice things for them to have that really don’t cost that much for us, but for a school when funding is so tight, they probably weren’t able to do that. So most of the things that they’ve asked for are books or sensory toys of some kind,” Douglas said.

“They’re just a great addition to schools because it gives kids a place to go. I think sometimes we all need a place to go, even as adults. Sometimes we just need a place to go and get ourselves put back together and this gives them the opportunity to do that,” Lund said. 

School budgets are so tight and they have to be so so careful about what they allocate money to and its just never enough so we’re excited to help however we can really,” Douglas said. “Mental health and childhood health is big to us it’s one of Rotary’s pillars is ‘children’s health’ and so this fits right in with that.”  

Douglas said while most projects take time to advance, this funding was approved almost immediately.

Teachers attending the funeral

Every teacher that wanted to was able to attend the funeral services, all thanks to some college students.

Torrie Rice and Jamie Hamblin are assistant professors of elementary education at Southern Utah University and they teach senior students in their final semester before going into student teaching.

“We have a partnership specifically with Enoch Elementary, and North Elementary where our students go out and learn from those mentors and teach in their classrooms two hours per day. So we were already working very, very closely with Enoch elementary before anything happened,” Hamblin said. “We’ve been doing this for semesters, years, really.”

Jamie Hamblin and Torrie Rice speak to KSL TV over zoom about their students substituting in Enoch schools.

The date of the funeral, Jan. 13, was right at the beginning of a new semester. Education seniors at  Southern Utah University were preparing to start their new semester volunteering in Enoch elementary schools a few hours a week.

“We said to them, ‘We have this opportunity and idea to serve the teachers and of Enoch,’ and they right away were on board,” Hamblin said. “They were really supportive. We kind of went in a little bit nervous of if they were going to feel confident enough to go in the classrooms and take over on…  their day four. And so we were a little bit nervous to see if we would get much of a response but they had an amazing response.”

Southern Utah University we have a great working relationship with them, and they reached out and said, ‘can we help you with our education students coming into your classrooms and helping out so that teachers can attend the funeral?’ And so we utilized that in those schools that were the most impacted,” Lund said.

Then Hamblin and Rice presented the plan to the students.

“There was no hesitation. They were all in the face of a tragedy, they wanted to do something and it was something that they could do,” Hamblin said. Of the 22 students in the class, 20 were able to go volunteer as substitutes for teachers attending the funerals for the Haight Family.

“We have 22 students in our class this semester, two of the students already had obligations, and they were they were really bummed. They wanted to help. The other 20 signed up right away,” Hamblin said.

When other students on campus heard of the effort, they reached out to see what they could do.

“We had students across campus that weren’t even education students that emailed; I got several emails that said, ‘I’ve heard you’re going out to help if you don’t have enough people, please let us know, we’d love to go in and help,’ ” Hamblin said. “So I just think it speaks to the character of the students. They were they were phenomenal.”

Enoch Elementary principal, Daniel Ekker, not only allowed teachers who were most impacted to attend the funeral in La Verkin, but also set up an area in the library for other teachers to watch the funeral on zoom.

“I think sometimes people don’t realize how the bond that grows between an elementary teacher and their students. You’re with them for over six hours every day, you don’t just care about reading and writing and math. You know who their friends are and when they’re excited that their grandparents are coming and the funny thing that their dog Cooper did the night before and you really love your students,” Hamblin said. “I know that probably sounds cliché, but you you love them and you care about them deeply, and not just when they’re in your room but when they move on to the next grade level and the next school level. Your heart goes with them and when you see them you are you are one checking on them and wondering how they are doing.”

SUU students substituted in each of the classes to make it possible for teachers to attend the funeral however they desired.

“So whether it was just virtually or in person all our teachers who wanted to access that were able to do so. And we couldn’t have done that without SUU and others who said we’ll substitute teach and help out in that way,” Lund said. 

“We knew that every teacher there was going to feel that heartbreak of not only losing the two children that were at that school at the current time, but also the children that had gone through and that they had taught and been with,” Hamblin said. “The secretaries that work with them and the nurses that put the ice on the skinned knees, and that principal that’s there every morning welcoming the kids as they come in the building. We just knew that was going to be devastating and we just knew that was something that they needed for that closure.”

“One teacher even came out and she was so, so grateful to the (SUU) students because she was saying how much she is she had struggled with this news and she just felt peace, and seeing them one final time was what she needed,” Rice said. “So that was really kind of the ultimate goal was just to give those teachers that peace and that closure and just this very, very small part of that healing process.”

Hamblin and Rice gave all credit to the school and principal for the way they had handled a devastating situation.

“No one’s ever ready to respond to a tragedy like this. And I think Iron County was just amazing with what they did to help support their teachers,” Hamblin said.

“I just commend Enoch elementary so much they they we know we’ve they’ve been through so much but they’ve handled it just with grace. They’ve supported each other, they’ve supported the community they’ve supported the kids and so I think that that’s definitely the highlight of this story,” Rice said.

Other support

The Rotary Club and SUU weren’t the only groups that helped out.

We’ve just seen an outpouring of so much help,” Lund said. “The day of and the next day, just therapists from all over Southern Utah came together and offered their volunteer services and as a part of that, our counseling coordinator was able to put together a community crisis clinic where people throughout the community could have access to therapy services.”

Neighbors and businesses dropped off treats and packages for law enforcement and schools. The Elk Lodge hosted a fundraiser for family members. The community made a small memorial of balloons and stuffed animals in front of the Haight family’s home.

 “We’ve just been overwhelmed by how wonderful the support has been,” Lund said.

Finding hope and healing

“In times of tragedy it’s really easy to get down and sad because it is sad, it’s horrific. But I think one of the best ways to find peace in it or to feel better about it instead of just ruminating about how horrible it was is to find ways to do good and to look for the good. and you can do both. But I know once I felt like we as a club could actually do something, I started feeling more peaceful like it’s not just horribly tragic – it is – but at least there’s some good that we can put forth as a result,” Douglas said. “We can’t fix it. It will take time for people to heal, but we can offer some relief, offer some hope, offer some love, and that is healing.”

“Understandably our school family is still healing,” Lund said. “They’re a family down here and so they’re working to get back into a routine, but our teachers, our students are still struggling a little bit.”

“It is a very tight close knit group of individuals who come together when tragedy strikes, and it’s not about any one effort but all of us, again, supporting one another, being there, being good neighbors,” Nikki Koontz with SUU said.

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The ‘quiet angels’ that helped Enoch schools through tragedy