Harlan County elementary students cope with death of assistant principal

HARLAN, Ky. (WYMT) - Many students headed back to school Wednesday after having some time off for Christmas break, but students at one Harlan County elementary school returned with heavy hearts. Students at James A. Cawood Elementary School came back minus their assistant principal. Patricia Caldwell was killed in a crash Christmas Eve in Knox County. We spoke with educators there about how the students were coping.

As the doors opened for a new term at James A. Cawood Elementary School, thoughts were on assistant principal Patricia Caldwell, who was killed Christmas Eve in a Knox County crash.

"The kids seem to be understanding, and that's good," said principal James Clem. "An elementary kid, if they can understand these situations, it shows that level of maturity that we hope they will develop."

More than a week has passed since the accident. Now that school is back in session, officials say they are trying to create a sense of normalcy for students and staff that may still be grieving.

"We didn't want to interrupt their class schedules," said school psychologist Jill Harris. "We want to keep them on as much of a routine as possible, because I think that helps with the grieving process, if the kids can get back on schedule."

Grief counselors were on hand throughout the day in case students needed to talk, but overall they say the children carried on as usual.

"Kids are resilient. They handle situations such as this I think almost better than adults do in a way," said Harris.

Officials are optimistic students will adjust quickly. The principal says Mrs. Caldwell was an excellent assistant and will be deeply missed.

Counselors we talked to stressed that everyone grieves differently, and for some the process may take a while. They say they will continue visiting the school as long as they are needed.

Caldwell was one of five people killed in the crash, along with her husband, daughter, and son-in-law.

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