December 17, 2012 Dear Families,
We are all saddened about the news of the horrible events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. There is no reasoning behind why such a tragedy should ever take place. The only thing we can do is find faith in the blessings that we do have in front of us while we continue to keep those affected in our thoughts and prayers.
Times like these remind us of how precious life is and to find value and gratitude in those around us. Especially at this time of the year with the holiday season upon us, it is important to reflect on the human element of the people we come into contact with everyday. People in general should be kinder and gentler with one another and to always assume best intent. Patience and consideration with one another are truly virtues to bring alive at times like this.
As a school, we have committed to you, your children, and our fellow staff members to be teachers, mentors, protectors, and positive role models everyday. Your children are our top priority and we will continue to make every effort to give them our very best at all times. We know that events such as these can cause fear and anxiety for all involved, but especially children. We want your children to feel secure at school and have a sense of normalcy in general. We are dedicated to providing a safe educational environment and ask for your assistance in the following:
o Read the attached articles, "Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers" and "Talking to Kids About School Safety," and be prepared to reassure your children of their safety in our school.
o Limit their exposure to the media - radio, television, and online regarding the continued coverage of this situation.
o Maintain a normal routine as much as possible.
o Be supportive and cooperative with safety procedures and protocols we have in place at the school.
o Be prepared for safety protocols new or current to be implemented despite inconvenience to parents and guests.
Always remember that your child is why we are here everyday. They are part of our lives and our families. We love them as if they were our own. It is important that we come together as a family unit and provide a safe, loving, and supportive educational experience at all costs.
If you have questions, please contact the principal, social worker, counselor, or me. Thank you for your continued support and working with us to keep our children safe emotionally and physically.
Trillium Academy 15740 Racho Road
Taylor, MI 48180
Talking to Kids about School Safety
School violence and the resulting intense media coverage bring school safety issues to the forefront for all ofus. However, children, in particular, may experience anxiety, fear, and a sense of personal risk. Knowing how to talk with your child about school safety issues could be critical in recognizing and preventing acts of violence, and will play an important role in easing fear and anxieties about their personal safety.
Encourage children to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to prompt them by asking if they feel safe at school. When talking with younger children remember to talk on their level. For example, they may not understand the term "violence" but can talk to you about being afraid or a classmate who is mean to them.
• Talk honestly about your own feelings regarding school violence. It is important for children to recognize they are not dealing with their fears alone.
• Validate the child's feelings. Do not minimize a child's concerns. Let him/her know that serious school violence is not common, which is why incidents such as Columbine and Conyers, Georgia, attract so much media attention. Stress that schools are safe places. In fact, recent studies have shown that schools are more secure now than ever before.
• Empower children to take action regarding school safety. Encourage them to report specific incidents (such as bullying, threats or talk of suicide) and to develop problem solving and conflict resolution skills. Encourage older children to actively participate in student-run anti-violence programs.
• Discuss the safety procedures that are in place at your child's school. Explain why visitors sign in at the principal's office or certain doors remain locked during the school day. Help your child understand that such precautions are in place to ensure his or her safety and stress the importance of adhering to school rules and policies.
• Create safety plans with your child. Help identify which adults (a friendly secretary, trusted teacher or approachable administrator) your child can talk to if they feel threatened at school. Also ensure that your child knows how to reach you in case of crisis during the school day. Remind your child that they can talk to you anytime they feel threatened.
• Recognize behavior that may indicate your child is concerned about returning to school. Younger children may react to school violence by not wanting to attend school or participate in school-based activities. Teens and adolescents may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn, or allow their school performance to decline.
• Keep the dialogue going and make school safety a common topic in family discussions rather than just a response to an immediate crisis. Open dialogue will encourage children to share their concerns.
• Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a child's reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at school or at your community mental health center. School social workers are available at each school.
Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers
High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.
1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk a bout their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.
3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
• Early elementary schoolchildren need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
• Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.
• Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.
5. Observe children's emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child's level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental heaIth professional if you are at all concerned.
6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in comm on areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.
7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don't push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
• Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
• The school building is safe because ... (cite specific school procedures).
• We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.
• There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.
• Don't dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibilityof something happening and the probabilitythat it will affect our school.
• Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
• Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.
• Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.
• Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
NASP has additional information for parents and educators on school safety, violence prevention, children's trauma reactions, and crisis response at www.nasponline.org.
©2006, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway #402, Bethesda, MD 20814