“I sense that our entire school community’s hearts are just swollen with grief.“
That’s Dr. Steve Salerno, superintendent of the Mount Horeb Area School District, describing the mood of the schools in his district today, in the wake of the shooting yesterday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
The shooting killed nineteen students and two teachers. And it’s placed school faculty and staff along with parents in a difficult yet familiar conundrum: How to talk to kids about this? Dr. Salerno encourages adults to reassure kids while also recognizing how they feel.
“Key among is just reassure children that they’re safe. Schools, on balance, continue to be very safe,” says Salerno. “However, we mustn’t forget to validate the feelings of our young people. They’ve been through a lot. Safety has unfortunately been a part of their lives all throughout the pandemic. And now, as news events like this unfold, it’s very difficult.”
And because of that, Dr. Salerno stresses the importance of making time to talk.
“We need to make time to talk, answer questions honestly, and talk about how they can be part of the solution,” Salerno says “At our high school level for example, our kids routinely – I call it – ‘save the day’ with information that they provide to trusted adults that allow us to solve the little issues so that the big issues don’t seem so big.”
When talking with kids about incidents like these, it’s important to use an age-appropriate level of detail. That’s according to Ben Laxton, a counselor at Glacier Edge Elementary School in Verona.
“So we want to make sure that we’re talking about the appropriate things, you know, talking more along the lines of ‘the person who did this is no longer able to hurt anyone; it’s taken care of,’ but not talking about what actually happened to that person. So leaving it to ‘that person may have been arrested or may have been anything’ but not specifically going into, like, ‘this person was shot and killed by police officers,'” Laxton says
Laxton also recommends trying to meet kids where they are.
“You know, just kind of gauging the level of understanding that your kids have is really important and then making sure they understand the difference between reality and fiction because we see a lot of things in media and things like that that are happening like this. And understanding what they’re hearing and what is actually truthful, because there’s a lot of things that kids will hear of rumors at school or rumors from their friends and things like that that might not actually be what happened,” says Laxton
In a letter to families of students in the Verona Area School District, superintendent Dr. Tremayne Clardy noted that counselors and social workers would be available for students to talk to.
MMSD Superintendent Carlton D. Jenkins wrote in a statement that Madison schools also have social workers, counselors, and psychologists available on hand.
Yesterday’s shooting came just ten days after another mass shooting, this time at a Buffalo, New York supermarket, which killed ten people.
To date, there have been 212 mass shootings in 2022. 27 of those have been school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths, reports NPR. That data comes from the Gun Violence Archive, an independent organization that tracks reported instances of gun violence.
Image courtesy: Indiana Public Media on Flickr