Newtown Tragedy

I sent the following to our community last night:

Dear St. Luke’s Families,

As the President said, “Our hearts are broken today.”

I write to you with a heavy, heavy heart. A feeling I know you share. The country is reeling from this morning’s shocking news of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. As I wrote to a parent earlier today, the tragedy is unimaginable.  I struggle to get my head around it – as a parent and as a school head – and will do everything I can to help our students, families and staff think through and manage the emotions of this awful situation. As the news unfolded – changing rapidly and often with inaccuracies – during the day today, we felt it best to monitor our students carefully but not gather them collectively or send any communiques to families that might be based on imperfect information or alarm people unnecessarily. Be assured that we will work through the weekend to determine the best ways to support our students at school during the coming week.

Please know that Blake Bueckman, Middle School Counselor, is available to talk with students and parents every day – including this weekend – on the phone or via email. Additionally, Dr. Ron Raymond, St. Luke’s Consulting Psychologist, is available and will be at school on Tuesday as usual. Ultimately, there may be no making sense of today’s events at Sandy Hook, but in school we can support each other even as we take comfort in resuming our usual rhythms and routines, which is a proven and good practice during times of grief or crisis.

I cannot promise you that the Hilltop is immune to the troubles of the world, but I can assure you that we do everything in our power to keep our students safe. St. Luke’s has thorough security procedures, and a crisis plan in place. Exterior doors (except the main entrance) are locked throughout the day. We have cross-campus radio communications and security cameras. In addition to regular fire drills, the entire School (faculty, staff and students) performs an annual lock-down drill with the help of the New Canaan Police Department – this kind of regular practicing of orderly evacuation procedures builds the habits that can keep everyone safe during an emergency.

We know that one of the greatest immediate struggles is how to communicate with our children about something so terrible. There are many resources available, several of which I include below. I find comfort and good sense in this advice from the American School Counseling Association:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
  • Limit exposure to television and the news.
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.

Additional Resources:

PBS.org – Talking With Kids About the News

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Talking to Children about Community Violence

National Association of School Psychologists:
http://www.nasponline.org/resources/crisis_safety/terror_general.aspx

Our collective hearts go out to the families of Newtown. As always, St. Luke’s will join together to get through this troubled time. Once we’ve had some time to think clearly, we can consider how we might  support those who have lost so much.

Be well.

– Mark