Peace On Earth

Last night I came across this “Remembering Sandy Hook Victims” article. I admit, it’s a struggle to focus on the faces of the children. I don’t want to feel that mix of anguish and sorrow moving through my gut again. The re-realization that this actually happened.

I look at their toothless smiles. I read the stories about what they loved (horses, dancing, arm-wrestling, dolls). I read again about the teachers and administrators who leapt in front of bullets. I can’t change what happened, but I can remember them.

Recently a video of Samaria Rice appeared in my email. She describes the night her 12-year old son, Tamir, was shot dead. Though the circumstances are completely different from Sandy Hook, I feel the same obligation to bear witness. This should not have happened. I need to hear and feel this woman’s grief and anger. I need to remember, in the words of Dr. King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Peace on earth. Sometimes it feels like a wish we bring out during the holidays—like ornaments soon wrapped up and stuck back on the closet shelf. How do we change that? How do we make kindness, respect, and justice for all a tangible, reachable goal?

In a few weeks, our ninth grade will begin St. Luke’s first January Term (J-Term). This will be an eight-day cycle when regular classes will suspend and students will study one domestic or world problem, collaborate on solutions, and present their findings and ideas at a symposium. While still in eighth grade, students were asked what topic they’d most like to explore. Their collective answer: human rights. Students at this age are ripe for asking big questions—Why is there unfairness in the world? What can I do about it? We want to fan that flame and show our young people that they can use their hearts and minds to change the world.

Later in January, St. Luke’s will hold our second annual Social Justice Summit. Student and faculty participants will engage in activities and examine case studies that deepen our awareness, strengthen our capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, and foster trusting relationships across the perceived barriers of race, ethnicity, religion, identity, gender, age and power. When we intentionally strengthen our students’ (and our own) capacity and commitment to oppose injustice, we demonstrate a St. Luke’s tenet—developing good people is as important as developing great scholars.

Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Peace is a journey of a thousand miles and it must be taken one step at a time.”  St. Luke’s does not have all the answers, and we’ll certainly uncover areas of disagreement and misunderstanding even as we seek to understand each other better. But I know we’re walking the right path. Our Center for Leadership encourages students to find your voice and make a difference. Imagine the difference every community could make by teaching children to respect all people— not because it’s good manners or politically correct—but because it will bring peace on earth.

 

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