Although local school officials say they haven’t heard many reports of students having a difficult time dealing with the Dec. 14 school shootings in Connecticut, a doctor at Bradley Hospital in East Providence says it’s important for teachers and parents to keep an open dialogue with children.
“I think our parents did a really good job of keeping the younger children from listening to all of the media coverage,” said Lynn Krizic, superintendent of schools in Portsmouth.
She said kindergarten students “had a really good day” on the first full day back after the shooting. That same day, middle school students had a welcome distraction, she said.
“They had an intergenerational day on Monday,” she said, noting that many of the students’ grandparents showed up to school. “That really made for a very calm day.”
In Little Compton, Superintendent Kathryn Crowley said there’s been no evidence of any lingering student anxiety at the Wilbur-McMahon School, which serves grades 6 through 8. “We’ve been lucky. On the first day (after the shooting), there were two students who made some small comments and they talked to our school psychologist,” she said, adding that she’s not aware of any parents who are reporting problems with their children.
Still, it’s important to welcome a dialogue with your kids about the tragedy or any other significant event, according to Dr. Margaret R. Paccione-Dyszlewski, director of the Department of Behavioral Education at Bradley Hospitalin East Providence.
“Whatever the age of the child, invite and listen to their questions and concerns. Let them know that their questions are always welcome. Sometimes we assume that they want chapter and verse but the child may be satisfied with a very small amount of information,” said Dr. Paccione-Dyszlewski.
The Newtown shooting took place more than two weeks ago, but some children could still be struggling to deal with the tragedy even if the outward signs cannot easily be detected. Depending on age and cognitive ability, said Dr. Paccione-Dyszlewski, “kids will react quite differently to traumatic events.” Some react on the moment, she said, while others can start acting differently weeks or even months later.
It’s normal for kids to regress when something traumatic happens, she said. Young children may experience slight interruptions in sleep patterns, become whiny when going to school, seek comfort toys or have small toilet accidents for a couple of months after such an event. But if behavioral changes linger for more than that, that’s when parents should be concerned, she said.
Of course, she said, “Kids who are most at risk are the ones with a history of trauma already, like if they’ve had a recent death in the family.”
In addition to talking with your children about a tragedy, families need to seek out support around them, she said. Parents should also think of ways their children can contribute to the community healing —making cards, writing a poem, attending prayer services. Parents need to take care of themselves as well, said Dr. Paccione-Dyszlewski.
“I would encourage parents to seek whatever comfort they can … because that can help their child as well.”
Hotline in place
To help children who may be significantly affected by the shootings, Bradley Hospital has started a crisis hotline that parents, teachers and caregivers can call to be referred to an appropriate resource for assistance. The number is 855/543-5465 and it’s available 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, visit www.bradleyhospital.org.
School security concerns
Although school officials are reporting few instances of students needing counseling or other intervention in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, school security is a concern for many parents.
A special case is in Little Compton, where 275 students in grades 6 to 8 attend the Wilbur-McMahon School which will soon be undergoing a major renovation job. Recently the first of 27 modular units arrived in town on wheeled carriers. When seamed together they’ll form two 70-foot-long buildings that will serve as temporary classrooms while the main school is renovated in a job that’s expected to take at least a year. The modular classrooms should be ready for occupancy by the end of January.
School officials met with parents on Dec. 19, five days after the Newtown shootings, to take questions and hear their concerns.
“Most of their concerns were about security in the modulars, and we’re taking steps to make sure the security there is tight,” said Ms. Crowley.
The school has also been more vigilant about monitoring visitors. Before the Newtown shootings the school already had a policy of buzzing in visitors.
“But in Little Compton, everybody knows everybody else, so you can get lax with that policy,” she said, adding that the rule will now be strictly enforced. “And everybody has to get a visitors’ pass.”
In Portsmouth, Ms. Krizic said the schools already have sound security measures in place, but recommendations on further safety enhancements will be discussed at a January school committee meeting.
She pointed to the high school, where the main door is locked, but the door to the main office is not. “I do have some people who are concerned about people just walking into the office,” she said, adding that it’s the same situation at the middle school.
Security has already been beefed up at Melville School, which serves some of Portsmouth’s elementary students.
“The (Melville) principal is locking the door to the office and parents have to knock,” she said, adding that it’s not a major inconvenience because the door is so close to the secretary. “Melville is one that needed change.”