By Jacqueline Koch
The Highway 530 landslide hit children in the affected communities especially hard. “I knew right away, given the issues our students face in their daily life—and now the death of two schoolmates—we were going to have to look at different strategies,” said Tracy Franke, principal of the Darrington Elementary School.
Nearly two years since the disaster, students still have to pass the collapsed mountainside each time they have to go to the city or shopping. “The trauma is reopened every time they drive through,” said Franke. “The same goes for the parents who are driving through the slide zone to get to work.”
Each of the 187 students attending Darrington Elementary School was impacted in some way by the disaster, which claimed 43 lives, but the school lacked the resources to provide emotional support to students and their teachers. The Red Cross, joined by donors like the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation and United Way, found a meaningful way to help—school counselor Megan Lucas.
Lucas joined the staff and quickly got to work helping students begin their emotional recovery. She introduced Art with Heart, a program that allows every student to work through grief and loss through artistic expression. The program also provided teachers with the support needed to better understand how PTSD affects children as well as the benefits of having a safe place to express their fears and feelings of loss.
“Through creativity, we are giving kids coping tools that will last a lifetime,” Lucas explained. “I feel fortunate to have gotten to see my students get stronger, more compassionate, and happier… Art with Heart helped make that happen for them.”
For parents who have witnessed their children struggle to cope, Lucas has provided a bridge to recovery. “I wanted those feelings to exit, the grief to come out,” said the parent of one child who lost a close family member in the disaster. “I wanted the healing to start.”
Megan Lucas was involved with the landslide emergency response from the start. Two years later, she remains a part of the community, playing a key role to support the emotional health of Darrington’s youth. “To be a part of that process, to know I’m able to bring resources, to bring support for students for staff and parents, is a great feeling.”