Clay County counselors helped Parkland students cope

2 Clay County clinical social workers were there when school reopened

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Two Clay County school counselors traveled to Parkland last month to help Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and faculty after a mass shooting left 17 people dead and more than a dozen others injured.

Clinical social workers Lillie Switanek and Susanne Hall, who were at Douglas the day students returned, said there were armed police officers around the school and a lot going on with each student, so a wide range of assistance was needed. 

"When you know you could sit with a kid, you can talk with them, you can provide at least a calming presence to them," Switanek said. "I may not be able to do everything, but I know I can do that."

"One person raised their hand and said, 'Is there any reason the door is not shut? Will you shut the door?'" Hall said.

Music, coloring books, even fidget spinners were available to help students.

"It’s just a matter of really paying attention to the person you are in front of at the time, and really trying to get a sense of where they are and what they need at that moment," Switanek said.

For some, it was just a matter of someone to talk to. Therapy dogs were also used to help the students and faculty deal with their emotions.

Switanek said those emotions will likely come and go for a long time.

"You have to, because we are not always willing to admit it to our self, sometimes we need those people that know it’s best to kind of say, 'You know, I’m seeing some changes in you,'" Switanek said.

Hall said that while she was at the school, she saw a strength in everyone that she knows will help them in the future.

"Out of darkness comes light," Hall said. "We were there the first day the students came back. You could see in all of their pain, there was still all of this joy to be back with their peers, their teachers."

Both of the women said they would get calls or messages at all hours of the day from people needing some bit of help. They also said they are thankful that the district and superintendent gave them the opportunity to be there to help in any way students and teachers needed.

Switanek and Hall were recognized during Social Worker Appreciation Week earlier this month for their work in Parkland.