NORTH ADAMS -- The emotional well-being of city school children was a top priority on Monday for North Adams Public School administrators, who spent the weekend prepping faculty and staff on how to address the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"Our concern is that the children have been bombarded with images of the tragic events throughout the weekend," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright, who also serves as school committee chairman, said Monday morning. "Our main concern is their emotional health and that they have support to process it."
According to Connecticut authorities, Adam Lanza, 20, blasted his way into the Newtown elementary school on Friday, killing 26 people, including 20 children, ranging in age from 5 to 10 years old. Lanza also killed his mother prior to the attack on the school and later took his own life.
"Maintaining a sense of normalcy is very important for our students," said Anne French, school adjustment counselor coordinator for the school district. "Students need the structure and routine they know. They are able to feel safer and less anxious when routines are able to be kept. When something like this happens, it’s a balance between acknowledging the events and honoring the people affected by the events, with a return to routines as normal as possible."
Prior to opening the city’s three elementary schools and Drury High School, the school district’s crisis management team was pulling together resources, not only for parents, but for school faculty and staff as well.
"Over the weekend, Principal Amy Meehan emailed all of the teachers," French said. "We sent them information and tip sheets on how to deal with student questions and anxiety and how to reassure them about their safety. We also have made our school adjustment counselors available to students. We held a moment of silence for the shooting victims and reviewed basic safety protocols during homeroom."
However, the district’s major emphasis on gauging students’ emotional health was directed toward the elementary schools.
"My impression is the younger children were affected at a much greater level, which makes sense because of the context of this tragedy, which took place at an elementary school," French said. "We’re really concerned about the younger children, so the principals at each elementary school provided teachers in the younger grades with some instruction on how to address this news, while at the same time keeping the explanation at the developmental level of the children. We also wanted to reassure them about their safety."
French added, "I do know the principals and school adjustment counselors have assisted in the classrooms where there were some concerns. We’re not seeing large numbers of students seeking out the counselors, but a more generalized reaction at the elementary school level. They don’t have a context for an event like this. Š This case is also unique because it involves an elementary school, which is unheard of, and because of the large number of deaths."
Tips for parents, including topics on how to deal with stress in children and teens, signs of child traumatic stress and how to help children cope with a national tragedy, can be found on the North Adams Public Schools website at http://www.napsk12.org.