Important Message from the Superintendent and Board President
We are all so deeply saddened by the shootings that have taken place in Newtown, Connecticut. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of the members of the Newtown community and especially to those who have lost children, loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Although words cannot truly express our feelings of grief and concern following a tragedy such as this, we would like to provide some solace and guidance to our Howell families as we try to move forward following this senseless event.
The safety and security of your children while at school is always our top priority, and we have a plan in place at each of our schools to prevent crisis situations. We work very closely with the Howell Township Police and Fire Departments to prepare for these types of emergencies and regularly practice our safety procedures with students and staff through discussions and emergency exercises. While no amount of planning can guarantee that a tragedy such as this will not occur, we will continue to do everything we know to keep students and staff safe while at school. On Monday, we will be meeting with our leadership team to debrief on this situation and plan for any additional measures that may need to be taken in the wake of this tragedy.
Our guidance counselors and child study team professionals will be prepared to speak with students who may need support in understanding this tragedy as we return to school on Monday. Although we would like for our classroom routines to remain as consistent as possible, our teachers will respond to students' concerns as appropriate and seek additional assistance from other building professionals when needed. Please reach out to your child's teacher if you feel that your child may need the immediate support of our counseling staff.
As we all learn more details about this tragic incident in the hours and days ahead, it will be important for you to spend time talking with your children and helping them cope with this news. We would like to share with you a list of tips from the National Association of School Psychologists about what parents can do at times like this:
- 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.
- 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 about their feelings readily.
- Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
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.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 health professional if you are at all concerned.Limit television viewing of these events, and be aware if the television is on in common 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.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.
- Early elementary school children 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.
- 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, communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.
Over the next several days and for months to come, the horrendous details will come out as all of us try to comprehend the depths of this nightmare. For now all we can do is pray for the victims, their families, and the parents who are grieving this evening over the loss of a precious child.
Tonight let's also make sure we hug and kiss our own children and reassure them they are safe and that we love them.