Memorial Tribute to the 2006 Whooping Crane Chicks
By Margaret Black
the night of February 1st/2nd, 2007, tragedy struck the ultralight-led "Class
of 2006" Whooping
Cranes. Just weeks after they arrived at the winter pen, a severe storm
raged across central
Florida, killing twenty people, destroying 1,500 homes... and killing
all but one of the eighteen birds we had tracked all fall. During the
week following the chicks' deaths, our class was involved in a multi-faceted
grief management program. The following describes
what we did...
Life Lessons (a.k.a.. Grief Management Principles)
From Margaret Black’s Class at Harriett Todd Public School
Empathy — I painted, for students,
a picture of the larger context in which
our loss occurred. I told my students that this was not just about
our cranes; that 20 people died and 400+ homes were destroyed by
the same storm that claimed
lives of our beloved birds. I told the students that we needed to
feel empathy for each other and for those who have lost even more
did, in the storm.
Map: Mary Hosier
Outreach — From the very beginning,
I taught my students that we need to comfort others, even when
we are in
the midst of
pain. I never let my students simply wallow in their own grief.
I asked them to support classmates who were hurting. I also asked
them to reach out
and comfort our "extended family" at Operation
lost not only their 2006 "babies" but also a year of their
work, and who were very concerned about how this loss was going to affect
all the children.
Balance — There
were two aspects to this life lesson:
(a) I taught the children that we need to take time to grieve, but
we also need to carry on with our work. We can't just sit around feeling
sad all day. We spent an hour and a half, on each of the first two days
back at school, talking about what
happened, crying over, and making cards for our cranes.* After our morning
grief sessions, we always returned to routine for the remainder of the
day. On the Wednesday and Thursday, immediately following the cranes'
deaths, we didn't do any grief work. We just carried on with routine
and let things settle. By the Friday, I felt students were ready to refocus
on the positive, so we revisited the cranes, for the purpose of celebrating
what we loved most about our migration project and the fact that 615
is still alive.
(b) I taught the children that it is possible to be sad and happy, at
the same time.
On the Friday, even though students were still hurting over the loss
of their cranes, we taped a video about how much we enjoyed our project,
to send to the team at Operation
Migration. After we finished taping
our video, we watched the NBC TVnews footage, from the previous
Sunday, announcing that 615 was still alive. Some
of my students had a hard time watching the segment, which I had
was a "good news" story, because it mentioned that seventeen
cranes had died. To enable students to find balance, and see the
good in the NBC story, I talked about Operation Migration field workers, Bev and Brooke,
who appeared in the piece embracing with joy over the fact
that one of their eighteen birds had escaped death. I explained to
the children that Bev and Brooke were in great mourning when the
was taped because, just two days previously, they had been told that
all the birds their team had worked with, over the past ten months,
had died. I asked my students to follow Bev's and Brooke’s
examples by embracing 615, in spite of their continuing sadness.
Action — There
were two aspects to this life lesson:
(a) I taught the children to express their feelings in
a variety of ways.
I gave my students not only an opportunity to talk, cry and be reflective,
but also to express their grief through writing, art and symbolic acts,
like attaching a tag with his/her bird’s number to the stem of
a flower, and placing that flower in a vase. (Photo at top)
On the day we celebrated 615’s miraculous escape from death, everyone
in the class made Valentine cards for him. We displayed the cards under
a banner in our classroom that used to read, "THEY MADE IT!" (to
Florida in December), and which we altered this week to exclaim, "HE
MADE IT!" (through the storm).
(b) I taught
my students to turn tragedy into good, by doing something concrete,
in memory of their chicks.
To me, the goal of the grief process is not to "get over" something.
To me, the goal is to allow tragedy to become a catalyst for
personal growth and change. As an extension of this principle, in
of death, I also think it is important to find ways to bring good
tragedy, by continuing the legacy of the deceased, on his/her
My students and I contributed to the fund that Operation
Migration created, in honour of the cranes. We made cards and letters for Operation
and, as previously mentioned, we also made a video tape, for them,
in which students explained what they loved most about the migration
project. Finally, we resolved not to let this tragedy keep us from
supporting the Whooping Crane reintroduction effort. When, during
the taping of
our video, I asked the students if they would like to participate
in monitoring future ultralight-led migrations, the answer was unanimous.
In spite of the grief, every single student said he/she would love
to participate in this type of project all over again!
Epilogue: At the end of the week, my students surprised me by teaching me what
it is to be
gracious. Students who had experienced the loss of "their birds” decided
to give 615's Valentine cards to the one student who didn't lose his
bird in this tragedy... to the boy who had adopted 615, and cheered him
along throughout the migration. Some of the students even congratulated
this young man, on his great fortune. (In retrospect, I now realize that
envy and animosity never did raise their ugly heads, this week. That
is partly due to the fact that 615's "cheerleader" remained
quiet and empathic all week... but I also have to give credit to my other
students for simply choosing not to go there!)
to enlarge Amelia's letter to Mrs. Black.