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Conard High School Student Dies Suddenly on Monday

A freshman at West Hartford’s Conard High School died Monday due to a medical event. [Updated with information about calling hours and memorial service.]

By Ronni Newton

The Conard High School community is mourning the loss of a freshman who died Monday.

Students were informed of the loss Tuesday morning, and a letter from Principal Julio Duarte was sent home to parents and guardians as well.

In a message to students, Duarte identified the student as ninth grader James Oksanen, and said his passing was due to a “medical event.” Further details were not provided.

The administration could not confirm whether or not the student was a member of a winter sports team, but a Conard student told We-Ha.com that he believed Oksanen was a member of the indoor track team. Oksanen was a member of Conard’s cross country team in the fall of 2019.

Oksanen earned high honors for the first quarter of his freshman year at Conard, and was also an honor roll student at Sedgwick Middle School. He previously attended Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford.

“Everyone’s thoughts are with the family and we are doing all we can to support them, our students, families, and teachers,” Assistant Superintendent Andrew Morrow told We-Ha.com Tuesday morning.

In his letter to families, Duarte also expressed sympathy and support for the student’s family, and said teachers spoke with students and noted that counselors were on hand to assist.

“We believe that it is important that we acknowledge our losses and come together to grieve and support one another at such times,” Duarte said in his letter. “We are a community in sad times as well as in times of celebration. Students were encouraged to recognize that everyone processes information like this differently and acknowledge their own needs. These efforts were made as a means of providing the comfort of structure, as well as of modeling that each of us can work through adversity.”

Duarte said that extra counselors will remain available for the immediate future should they be needed, and cautioned parents that students who have experienced other loss may be particularly affected.

In an email to students, Duarte noted that some may react by wanting to stick with their daily routine, while others may need “time and space,” and said the school will provide what they need. “Should you wish to meet with a counselor, please let a trusted adult known and pass will be provided to School Counseling,” Duarte wrote in his message to students.

He encouraged families to also seek help if students need it. “Should your child appear to be struggling to cope, we encourage you to contact the school to speak with one of our support staff,” Duarte wrote in his letter to families.

The following resources were provided to parents:

Guidelines for Parents in a Time of Loss

  1. Answer questions honestly without embellishment or speculation. Children need the facts about a situation to the degree that their age allows them to be told those facts.

  1. Encourage your child to feel comfortable in asking questions and in engaging you in conversation about the situation. By doing so you allow him/her to voice fears, misunderstanding, or other emotions around the loss. You also prevent your child from feeling as if the subject is taboo. If you have difficulty managing such a conversation yourself you may wish to seek support for your child rather than avoiding the topic. Adult expressions of sadness are not likely to harm your child and may allow him/her to feel more comfortable with his/her own feeling as long as conversation accompanies any expression of grief. 

  1. A great deal of comfort comes from routines and everyday activities when a tragic event has occurred. Children need to know that life will go on and that together with you they will get through the difficult time. Time together doing simple daily activities can serve to provide stability and comfort to children with the knowledge that their own lives are still fine.  

  1. Some children desire time alone to manage their feelings. If your child is seeking more time alone than usual you may want to encourage him/her to talk or do something active. The key to knowing whether they are spending too much time in isolation is to observe whether this represents a dramatic change in behavior. The same is true for other behaviors, such as sleeping. Some children may regress or exhibit behaviors more common to someone younger in times of crisis or grief. Such behavior should be viewed as security and comfort seeking. A brief period of such behavior is not abnormal. An extended period of these changes should be noted and checked with a pediatrician or other professional.

  1. If your child is not interested in talking, but appears upset, you may wish to offer him/her some way of coping with feelings such as through artwork, written expression, cards for the family or simply for the sake of expression.

Calling hours will be Monday, Jan. 20, from 4-8 p.m. at Taylor and Modeen Funeral Home, 136 South Main St., West Hartford. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Jan. 21 at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 433 Fern St., West Hartford, CT.

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