Elementary Principal Makes a Difference as Students Encounter Harsh Realities


posted February 12, 2018

Educator Justine Dale, PhD, was part of a network news report that was worthy of a prime-time network drama. But this story was not fiction. It was – and remains – all too real.

Dr. Dale received her bachelor’s degree from Pitt-Johnstown in 1987. She is currently principal at East Falmouth, MA, Elementary School.

According to an NBC Nightly News report that aired on October 10, 2017, the school has encountered an unusual drug addiction situation – that of parents.

NBC reported that, in the historic town once known for its whaling industry and now as a popular tourist destination, the death toll from the opioid epidemic is staggering.

At East Falmouth Elementary during the past three years, 12 parents of students have died, including six from the fourth grade alone.

Dale told NBC reporter Kate Snow that tragedies have taken a staggering toll on the Cape Cod town. She said the clues were abrupt and then frequent.

“I think when we started having parent deaths, and had to tell first-grade classrooms and tell students that their classmate has lost a parent, and then having to do it again, and again,” she said.

Many students are often "traumatized by what they experienced over the weekend or that evening," Dale said. "And lash out at people or withdraw."

The situation has called for greater adaptability by the school. “We bring them in,” said Dale. The report detailed that techniques range from calming breathing exercises to music therapy.

“I can manage my school day and keep it a wonderful place for children, but I worry about what happens after 3:30,” she said.