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Counselors at STEM School Highlands Ranch continue the message of "STEM Strong" 5 years after shooting

Counselors help students turn trauma into resilience
Kendrick Castillo STEM School Highlands Ranch.jpg
Posted at 10:11 AM, May 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-07 14:57:59-04

HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — May 7 marks five years since the deadly shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch. It’s a benchmark year that counselors know can be difficult for trauma survivors.

Many of the high school students who are still at the STEM school today were in middle or elementary school at the time of the shooting. Nicholas Kruus remembers that day all too well.

“Most of my memories are just kind of being crouched in the corner, and very scared,” Kruus said.

The weight of the shooting hit him months later, according to Kruus. After that, he couldn’t walk into the building anymore.

Counselors at STEM School Highlands Ranch have learned lessons from other schools that have had shootings, including Columbine High School. High school counselor Colene Belisle said her focus is helping students turn trauma into resilience.

“Part of that is recognizing that it's okay to not be okay, and it's not okay to stay not okay,” Belisle said.

There are tactics to become resilient, including using optimism, positive psychology, problem solving and even humor.

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“It’s letting students know negative experiences don't define us, it's how we respond that recreates resiliency within,” Belisle said

Middle school counselor Lisa Clay uses an evidence-based social emotional curriculum for students that starts as early as Kindergarten.

Counselors are also part of the everyday fabric at the school.

“My goal is just to make every student feel heard, I wan them to feel comfortable with talking about their feelings and talking through things,” Clay said.

Kruus ended up moving to Canada for his early high school years, but re-enrolled at STEM when his family returned to Colorado. He credits the supportive environment and high academic standards for helping him move past the trauma and find purpose from it.

“I ended up realizing that in my life, I really want to try and be a good person and I really want to try and make a positive change,” Kruus said.

The school remembers the “STEM Strong” message that surfaced in the days after the 2019 shooting, and said that continues to this day.

“We have been able to showcase the strength within our students and staff, and we keep moving forward” Belisle said.

STEM School Highlands Ranch counselors help students build resilience

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