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School District in ‘initial stages’ of recovering from tragedies

After the fifth student death in less than two months, Superintendent David Flowers and representatives of the West Fargo School District held a conference to inform the community about the mood at West Fargo High School and what is being done to support its students and staff.

“As everyone is aware, it has been a really tough year at West Fargo High School,” Flowers said. “Each death was a heavy blow to our tightly knit learning community.”

The most recent loss for the high school came last week, when 17-year-old Ryan McLeod died from ongoing health issues.

Earlier this month, junior MaKenzie Walkin, 17, passed away. The cause of her death was not made available.

Roughly a month before, three high school students died in two days.

Sophomore Tessa Miller passed away early on the morning of December 6. The cause of her death was not released.

The next day, senior Levi Schulz and junior Ian Alves died. Schulz died of injuries he suffered after being struck by a vehicle on Sheyenne Street just south of Interstate 94. Alves passed away after battling cancer for 18 months.

“(The student body) has been bruised by each of these losses, but they remain unbroken,” Flowers said. “Each tragedy has created an opportunity for our learning community to come together and form cohesive partnerships with one another.”

Counselor Department Chair Julie Hersch said that counselors have played an active role in the school, and will continue to do so as long as the district sees fit.

“I think our students are feeling very supported,” Hersch said. “We have had many different things in place to support them. We have had individual counseling, we’ve supplied grief counseling referrals and I feel the students are very comfortable seeking out help and support.”

Assistant Principal Dan Holder expressed his satisfaction with the process so far, but understands that there is much more work to be done.

“We recognize that we are in the initial stages of our recovery, and planning will be ongoing,” Holder said. “We are very confident that the steps we’ve taken so far are the appropriate steps.”

Flowers echoed Holder’s statements in showing his appreciation for the work the staff has done in these trying times.

“Our administrative and counseling staff bore the brunt of these tough weeks, and performed at the highest levels of professionalism,” Flowers said. “They will say they simply did their jobs, but I recognize them as heroes.”