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School Psychologists Counsel Students On Divorce

April 14, 1986

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. (AP) _ An elementary school program is bringing divorce into the classroom to help children cope with a parental breakup, to express their feelings and maintain friendships during a painful period.

″It made me realize that there were other kids in the same position as me,″ said 12-year-old Kari Bosl. ″We talked about our feelings about divorce and our feelings afterward. It really helped me a lot.″

David Eberhardt and Tamara Masten, school psychologists who began the program a year ago, say too many children falter in their schoolwork and lose touch with friends because of their parents’ marital difficulties.

They persuaded the Fergus Falls School Board last year to spend $5,000 on a support program geared toward students between the second and eighth grades from troubled homes. Guilt is a common feeling among many children who have gone or are going through a divorce, and the children are urged to express it and other emotions, like anger, confusion and fear, Ms. Masten said.

″Sometimes kids need to let go of the guilt, because as long as you feel guilty you’re in control and there’s something you can do about it,″ Eberhardt said.

During the first half of the hour-long session, the children pair up and work on techniques for controlling anger and relaxing, Ms. Masten said.

Since many children refuse to talk about their problems, the group also works on communications, spending the last half hour talking about their problems, she said.

Eberhardt and Ms. Masten meet once a week for 12 weeks with one group of elementary students and one group of middle school students. Before the school year is over, they expect to have put 50 students through the program.

″It really helps them over some rough spots in their lives, especially the ones (whose parents) have divorced recently,″ said James Langlie, a junior high school principal.

″We keep a record of the kids that are from single-parent families that are having trouble, and it runs very high,″ Langlie said. ″Something like 80 percent of the kids I see are from some of these troubled homes.″

School-sponsored programs like the one in Fergus Falls, a community of about 12,500 in northwestern Minnesota, have sprung up all over the country in the past decade as schools realize the difficulties faced by many children of divorce.

School officials once believed that divorce was a personal matter and did not want to get involved, said James Bray, a professor at Texas Women’s University in Houston. That has changed as educators have come to realize the help they can offer, he said.

″The real benefit of doing something like this in the school is the school personnel often see problems develop before anyone else does,″ Bray said.

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