King's alumni seeks to create grief education curriculum
May 26, 2020
Matthew Simmons ’17, BA (Hons) Psychology and Sociology, is hoping to use the education he received at King’s to create a grief education curriculum for Ontario secondary schools.
“I would like to break this stigma around death and loss in general. We as a society try to hide death and loss and I do not believe hiding is the way we should approach this topic with our students or children,” says Simmons.
He explains such a course would be beneficial to youth to help them explore their own questions of life, death, and loss. He is seeing more and more that youth, equipped with the proper education and life skills, are capable of handling the current situation with COVID-19.
The course would not completely focus on “finite losses (death)” but also the “non-finite losses (non-death)”, often unnoticed or ignored. “There are so many other losses that we can explore which are generally being seen as ‘just a bad day’ or a ‘high school drama’ type situation. This course would ideally aid in the understanding of mental health and coping mechanisms as well due to the topic of suicide and the relevance of suicide to secondary school-aged individuals,” says Simmons.
After graduating with his BA (Honours) from King’s in 2017, Simmons was deciding what to do next. It was then he took an Introduction to Thanatology and met professors including Dr. Carrie Arnold, Assistant Professor in Thanatology, and Dr. Darcy Harris, Program Coordinator and Associate Professor in Thanatology.
“Thanatology is a passion and taking the courses helped me find that passion and initiative to start a project that bridges my current education and my ambitions for the future. These professors, along with many others, were an inspiration to take my knowledge and abilities to the next level and do something that could benefit society – an idea that I learned from Associate Professor and Psychology Chair Dr. Marcie Penner’s Collaborative Psychology class and research lab,” says Simmons.
Studying Thanatology at King’s and with an interest in clinical psychology, Simmons initially thought about becoming a grief counsellor. “Overall, I wanted a career where I could connect personally with individuals,” he says.
With the opportunity to begin a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) study, Simmons began discussing, with Dr. Harris, the concept of bringing grief education into secondary schools. Dr. Harris provided him with the resources from the curriculum from a trial run for London school boards from the 1990s.
“From here, I was able to see the potential of death education and its application to younger audiences,” says Simmons.
Having completed his B.Ed at Althouse College, this fall, Simmons will start in the Masters of Professional Education at Western (M.Ped) studying curriculum and pedagogy studies. His long-term plan is for the course to be an interdisciplinary study optional course in secondary schools, one that he would teach part-time. He would work to make changes to what the course can offer secondary school students and later work to incorporate more death awareness into the primary school system.
Simmon’s plan for the next few years is to ensure the information he would present is up-to-date and accurate, while implementing course content and knowledge to properly create this course. His next steps will be to design lessons, based on an edited curriculum plan made by Kiana Kovacs, ’19 BA (Hons) in Thanatology, which has been a great starting point for further age appropriateness and justification. “It has also enlightened me to the many facets of death education in a more practical sense than I saw it before,” he says.
To learn more about Thanatology, please visit https://www.kings.uwo.ca/academics/thanatology/