A group of people standing in front of a police officer.

Local schools choose different paths to support children

This is a developing story…

How schools are responding to the shooting in Texas is as unique as each school and community are unique. The fact that school is still in session for the last few days or weeks reminds us that the Uvalde school had only 2 days left to the year and had just had their awards presentation that morning.

Preventing tragedies like this from happening again and again is paramount in our minds. How we speak to our children about what is happening is also a major concern as they can almost not avoid a news report or talk in school.

We look at three school systems and how they have chosen to begin. But first, some advice from a specialist in trauma and helping children, especially young children, at times like this.

Jennifer Cornish Genovese

Jennifer Cornish Genovese is a professor of social work in the Falk College, a New York State licensed certified social worker and has worked in private practice as a psychotherapist for 30 years. She specializes in helping children deal with trauma and offers thoughts on how to best help children cope in the wake of mass shootings at school.

“…A classroom, which should have been a safe space for children, turned into a scene of panic and terror. Parents, teachers and mental health professionals are left trying to explain the unthinkable to children, while trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy themselves.

A single act has changed the lives of children, families, a community and a nation. The devastation of this event has reached into every home across this country, again, because the loss of one child sends ripple effects throughout our country. We cannot make sense of this tragedy, but we can turn to one another and share our communal shock and grief.

Adults can support children by being present with them, listening to their words, sensing their feelings and seeing their actions. Children may express feelings through their behaviors rather than words, thus adults must focus on myriad ways children communicate their emotions.

Following exposure to a traumatic event, children may have difficulty regulating their emotions and often become anxious, clingy, irritable, confused or fearful. They might be difficult to soothe or comfort. Children may appear sad, numb or depressed; or become silent and withdrawn. In these times of anguish and sorrow, adults must listen to children with their ears, their eyes and their hearts, knowing that in their confusion and pain, children may express fear and uncertainty in unfamiliar ways.

Although adults may be experiencing similar symptoms, it is incumbent upon them to provide children with a safe harbor, a place where they can express their thoughts and feelings and find comfort and hope. By allowing children to express themselves in an authentic manner, adults offer a secure base where feelings can be acknowledged and affirmed, and hope can be instilled again.”

3 Schools – 3 different approaches – Pawtucket, Cranston, Westport:

We looked at activities underway at 3 school systems – Pawtucket, Cranston and Westport, MA

Cranston High School West had a simple program yesterday – the school principal and teachers, together with a familiar Cranston Police officer at the school handed out cookies and brownies at an informal end-of-school event – with plenty of opportunity for children to say something privately to them, if they wanted to. A simple program – an act of kindness – a smile, a sense of security, if you will. Sometimes when there is not much to say, much can be said without words, but with symbols – of hope, of love, of security.

All while Cranston school officials work to secure buildings and develop a plan for additional SROs in the schools.

In Westport, MA, the superintendent made an announcement that effective immediately, armed police officers will be placed at each of the four schools in the district. Two letters were issued by the Superintendent to parents and posted on their website. The one issued yesterday is reprinted, below. It notes that the placement of law enforcement officers will continue when school opens in the fall as well. It was posted on the Westport Community Schools Facebook page and was gathering messages of thanks and support from parents.

In Dartmouth, MA, there will be police officers posted in all schools until the end of the year.

Pawtucket High Schools took a different tack. It was announced that the 3 schools would stage a walk out out of concern for their safety, demanding some action takes place. So around lunchtime the young people left the building. A professionally done poster appeared at schools and on social media:

Students gathered around City Hall and the mayor, Mayor Grebien, would soon come out to speak to them, thanking them for keeping it peaceful. The impassioned plea of the students focused on gun control and “unjust laws”. It did not address the placement of SROs which has always been controversial at the high schools. The Mayor acknowledged this and said he would revisit the issue of SROs with the students.

Soon a candidate for Lt. Gov, joined them on a bullhorn and talked about gun control – then abortion – then voting on Election Day. Sen Cynthia Mendes, who is running for Lt. Gov. on a partnership ticket with gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, told the Pawtucket students “you have to keep up the pressure because of bad politicians”. She then talked about gun control – and then abortion legislation. She ended by talking about elections – saying “you need to stop asking politicians to fight for us – we need to fight for ourselves”.

The organizer of the event was said to be “the students” and Zaxhary Pinto. Pinto is identified on his Twitter account as communications director for the BLM-RI PAC.

Mendes posted on Twitter some final words: “The callous establishment’s time is up! We are done begging and marching for our lives… we are organizing and marching into a WHOLE NEW GOVERNMENT!

One podcaster referred to parents as “fascists” which was pointed out by Erika Sanzi on Twitter:

Pawtucket students have focused on their need for more counselors “to listen to us – we know what we need” – and to eliminate SROs.

In other states…

In Colorado, armed SROs are in place at every school in the state. In Virginia, an emergency appropriation of $5million has been allocated to provide SROs for every school and to immediately secure every building.

Rhode Island…

Many communities have gun reform legislation under consideration at their state houses. In Rhode Island Gov. McKee has announced a safety audit be done at every school in the state, by June 10th – that should provide a taking off point for infrastructure security. Each district is eligible for $500,000 for repairs and improvements for this purpose.

Gun control legislation is being considered at the RI State House.

Find out how your city/town school is reacting to the shooting, and specifically talking to the students about it. Knowing that we, the adults, are in charge and we are creating safe spaces for them will go a long way towards healing stress and anxiety.

Many experts urge parents to monitor the television watching, social media, and conversation, especially expressing our own fears, at this time as well. It is important that the home be their safe space.

Posted in ,