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The Suburbanite
  • Stark schools keep routine after tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

  • Helping students feel safe was a top priority as they returned to classes Monday following last week’s school shooting in Connecticut.

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  • Stark County-area schools returned to normal routines Monday as administrators, counselors and teachers addressed concerns internally following Friday’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
    For most, making students feel safe was the priority.
    In North Canton, city police officers were present at both Hoover High School and North Canton Middle School.
    Schools Superintendent Michael Hartenstein said the purpose was to reassure students they are safe.
    On Sunday evening, he sent a voice message to parents offering assurances that their children’s safety is of the utmost importance. He said he sent an internal email to staff Monday morning asking them to be extra sensitive to children who may be emotional.
    Hartenstein said counselors and principals were prepared to speak with children who felt afraid or upset.
    “I’m just stunned,” Hartenstein said Monday. “I’m still struggling with it myself.”
    Counselor Judy Hoover prepared a list of talking points for the high school staff and for district counselors as a guideline.
    Hoover said listening to the children and being good role models is important.
    “If teachers are reacting with grief and fear, the                students will follow,” she said, adding that Christmas is an emotional time for students for other reasons. “It’s a time of year when kids hurt.”
    As of Monday afternoon, no students had been in to speak with counselors regarding the shooting. She said she hopes parents don’t keep the TV news on constantly.
    Hoover said she would like the talking point to be mental health policy and the teachers who gave their lives for their students.
    “In an age that we bash our educators, people go into education because we love our kids,” she said. “They were willing to die for their kids.”
    Hartenstein said he and North Canton Police Chief Stephen Wilder are planning a town hall meeting in January so parents can discuss safety policies and procedures, and make suggestions for making them better. That date, he said, will be announced soon.
    North Canton wasn’t the only area district trying to address parents’ concerns. Plain Local Superintendent Brent May, like Hartenstein, sent a recorded message to all district parents on Sunday night addressing the situation and expressing sorrow for the victims.
    KEEPING A ROUTINE
    At Louisville Elementary School, guidance counselor Mark Adams said the main issue for elementary-aged kids is their safety and security.
    “We tried not to do anything out of our routine,” said Adams. “Kids need to feel that routine and know schools really are the safest place kids can be.”
    Teachers, he said, were prepared to help children who were upset by affirming their feelings and letting them share their emotions.
    Page 2 of 2 - Adams said they are walking a fine line in trying to make the kids feel safe, while at the same time, not upsetting them.
    Through social media, the administration learned that parents and community members felt the shooting was better addressed at home, he said.
    “Normalcy is the best rule,” he said.
    REMEMBERING THOSE LOST
    At local religious-affiliated schools, students and teachers are remembering the victims with prayer and reflection.
    Principal John Korecki at St. Joseph’s Catholic School said teachers and students included the victims in their morning classroom prayers.
    He said families talked with their children about the shooting during the weekend and no students seemed to be in need of counseling on Monday.
    At Heritage Christian, Wendy Nowak, director of communications, said the school sent home a list of guidelines for parents advising them to turn off the TV and be guarded about what they say around the children.
    On Monday, the staff focused on safety protocols and greeted students outside as they arrived at school, Nowak said, “to reiterate that we care for them and their safety.”
    At their morning chapel, Nowak, said, the older students in grades six through 12 prayed for the victims and for their own safety.
    “The lead teacher spoke to the student body, expressing that the faculty loves and cares for them, and that they should feel safe, and that the school administration is reviewing everything in order to make sure the school is doing what is best for them at all times,” Nowak said.
    GUIDING YOUR CHILDREN
    The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Stark County offers the following tips for dealing with the Newtown tragedy.
    •Talk honestly about the incident, without graphic detail, and share some of your own feelings about it.
    •Encourage young people to talk about concerns and to express feelings.
    •Limit TV viewing. It can be difficult to process the images and messages in news reports.
    •Recognize what may be behind a young person’s behavior. They may minimize concerns outwardly but may become argumentative, withdrawn or allow their school performance to decline.
    •Keep the dialogue going even after media coverage subsides. Continue to talk about feelings and discuss actions being taken to make schools and communities safer.
    • Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a young person’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at their school or at your community mental health center.
    Sources: Mental Health America and SAMHSA