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Local district responds to Connecticut school shootings

In response to today’s shootings at a Connecticut school, Archuleta School District 50 Jt. Superintendent mark DeVoti sent the following message to building principals.

The information included is valuable not only for district personnel, but for parents of student in the district.

“Dear Principals,

“As most of you are probably aware, there has been a school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  This is yet another sad day for our country, and all school communities. We have posted a brief notice on our district web and Facebook page telling readers that more tips about speaking with children will be forthcoming.

“An event like this once again focuses our attention on being as vigilant as possible about the safety of our students and employees.  Please take a moment to review your school’s safety plan.  Below is information on how to talk to kids about school safety and fears brought about by these kinds of events.

Talking to Kids about School Safety 

“Parents can help children gain a sense of personal control by talking openly about school violence and personal safety.” — Michael Faenza, President and CEO, National Mental Health Association.

To guide parents and principals through discussions about school violence, the National Mental Health Association offers the following suggestions:

• 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 these incidents 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 (or another family member or friend) 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.

Below are some additional tips from the Community Reach Center in Adams County. They speak more to the physical effects on children and how to minimize impacts.

• Eat regular, nutritional meals — food low in fat, sodium and simple sugar. Your body uses up vitamin B, vitamin C and calcium during stress so increase your foods or vitamins to replenish.

• Avoid excessive use of caffeine. Caffeine causes a stress response and it is not recommended when already under stress.

• Remind yourself that the symptoms you or others are experiencing are ordinary reactions to an unordinary event. Realize that the stress response has a physical effect on you, and different people respond differently.

• Exercise and drink plenty of water. Get plenty of sleep.

• Simplify your plans. There is nothing more important right now than taking care of yourself and your loved ones.

• Maintain family routines and activities. Help children get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet.

• You may need to be flexible with bedtime routines. A child may need for you to stay with him while he falls asleep, he may want a night light, or to sleep with a sibling or with you.

• If your child is fearful of going to school, if counselors know when your child is in crisis, they can frequently help.

• Spend extra time with your children and your family. Hugs help!

If you are feeling overwhelmed, you may want to consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you develop an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living. Community Reach Center is available 24/7 at (303) 853-3500.

This story was posted on December 14, 2012.