Trauma support for those affected by death of Sec 1 student in RVHS

Specialists, counsellors stationed at school; staff, students, parents can walk in for help

Psychological and trauma support is on offer to close friends and teachers of the Secondary 1 boy and the 16-year-old teen accused of killing him in River Valley High School (RVHS) on Monday.

Ministry of Education (MOE) specialists and school counsellors trained in psychological first aid and trauma management were at the school on Tuesday and are still stationed there, said director-general of education Wong Siew Hoong.

He said that a room has also been set up in the school for affected staff, students and parents to walk in for support, and it will be there till the end of the week.

Mr Wong was speaking to the media yesterday at the MOE headquarters in Buona Vista, two days after the alleged murder of a 13-year-old student at the school in Boon Lay.

He said: "Naturally, following this incident, some parents are understandably anxious about the safety of their children in our schools. Student safety has been and continues to be of paramount importance to all of us."

He added that all schools will continue to be vigilant about campus security, and the necessary processes are in place to ensure this.

RVHS, with support from MOE, has also provided staff, students and parents with helplines, and will continue to "keep a close eye on students and staff who are still traumatised or show prolonged distress symptoms, so that help can be provided to them in a timely manner", said Mr Wong.

He urged students who are facing difficulties to reach out to their parents, teachers or a trusted adult.

He also said that yesterday morning, 97 per cent of RVHS students returned to school, which is "similar to the regular attendance on any given school day".

He said: "This is the resilience of our students, and we are proud of them... RV teachers used some time this morning to check in with their students and to help them process what happened. It is important to create safe spaces for students to talk about and process their feelings."

RVHS students range in age from 12 to 18. The school offers a six-year Integrated Programme that allows students to skip the O levels and take the A levels in their sixth year.

Mr Wong said that "this tragedy has inevitably sent shock waves across our schools and education fraternity", and that all the schools and teachers stand ready to help and to look out "especially for at-risk students and those who are struggling to deal with what happened, to provide them with prompt support".

He said the culture of peer support that has been built up within schools here will be useful during this time, as students can look out for and support one another. They can also encourage others in distress to seek help from trusted adults, parents, teachers or counsellors.

Said Mr Wong: "Some time will be needed for all of us to process and heal from this incident.

"For the young minds... it is a difficult episode to make sense of, which is why MOE and our schools are fully focused on helping them draw useful lessons and making available the necessary support to those in need."

In a message sent on Tuesday evening to all educators, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing assured them that years of effort in nurturing students will prevail despite Monday's tragedy.

He also said the safety of schools will be safeguarded, and no effort would be spared to support staff and students during this period.

"We will do everything necessary to safeguard the trust and sense of community, together," he said.

He added: "We will mobilise all our counselling capacities to support all who need help."

Mr Chan, who visited the school on Monday, said he witnessed the "steely resolve in our school leaders and students".

"I was touched and inspired by their instinct to protect our students and one another in those critical moments," he said.

A website was set up by the school yesterday morning for the public to leave messages of support and their condolences.

On Tuesday, a Secondary 4 student from the school was charged with murder in a district court. He cannot be named as he is under 18.

He will be remanded at the Complex Medical Centre in Changi Prison for psychiatric observation, and is slated to be back in court on Aug 10.

The police, in a statement on Monday, said officers found the 13-year-old boy motionless on a toilet floor with multiple wounds.

An axe was seized as evidence when the 16-year-old was arrested.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in a Facebook post on Tuesday said preliminary investigations suggest that the older boy had bought the axe online and that he had a history of mental health issues.

Mr Chan, in another Facebook post that day, said students and staff would have access to counsellors trained in trauma management over the next few days.

In memory of their schoolmate: River Valley High School students leaving flowers at the school foyer yesterday in memory of the Secondary 1 boy who was allegedly killed by a Secondary 4 student in school on Monday. Yesterday morning, more than a dozen school staff and security officers were stationed at the gates to usher students in. Some parents dropped off their children at the school entrance and waited to see their child enter the compound before they left. The 16-year-old Secondary 4 student was charged with murder on Tuesday. The police had found the 13-year-old Secondary 1 student motionless on the toilet floor on Monday with multiple wounds. Police took away an axe as evidence. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'Trauma support for those affected by death of Sec 1 student in RVHS'. Subscribe