As Routine Returns, Counselors Ready, Security in Place at West Hartford Schools

At Webster Hill, parents thank the principal for keeping their kids safe.

On Monday morning, students at West Hartford's Webster Hill Elementary School were being met with smiles from Principal Jeff Wallowitz, who stood outside the front door holding a big umbrella and wearing a bright Red Sox scarf.

Rather than leaving their kids at the front door, as parents are usually asked to do, many walked them all the way to classrooms.

"I think a lot more families walked their kids to school today. I felt like today, I had to let them go to the classrooms," said Wallowitz, as he greeted every student and family member by name.

Wallowitz said that he had received many emails and other messages from Webster Hill families over the weekend. "They said 'thank you,' almost every email said thank you for keeping our kids safe," he said.

Meg McCrudden, whose son Paul attends Webster Hill, said she handed Wallowitz a note Monday morning.

"I wrote a note to Jeff to say 'I feel so grateful for the care and love you have for our kids.' The teachers are the hearts of our community. They love our kids like we do," McCrudden said.

Sarah Gilbert walked her daughter to school in the light rain. Eight-year-old Norah, a third-grader at Webster Hill, had also accompanied Gilbert to Sunday night's candlelight vigil in Blue Back Square.

Norah had brought an extra candle, and gave it to someone who didn't have one. She then told her mom, "Mr. W. was right, mom, it does feel good to help others," Gilbert said.

West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen List said on Sunday evening that every school planned to have a faculty meeting early Monday morning, and crisis teams would be prepared to respond to concerns in the aftermath of Friday's tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

"We are prepared, and hope to make everyone feel safe and get back to normal. We feel that routine will be the best for everyone," List said Sunday evening.

List said that counselors would be available as needed, and will be comfortable responding to questions that arise at every level.

She said that security procedures at every school would be reviewed with custodians and faculty.

West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove said there would be extra police presence at each school throughout the week, especially at drop off and pick up times. On Monday morning, an unmarked police car was parked in the Webster Hill driveway.

"We want parents to feel comfortable. We'll do our best to ensure that their kids are safe," said Gove.

On Sunday, Conard High School Principal Dr. Peter Cummings emailed a letter to families advising them about the school's plan to hold an extended class period Monday morning to review safety processes and concerns, and to advise students that support through individual or small group counseling would be available to all who needed it.

"I know you all are, like me, grappling with the events in Newtown and trying to make sense of how to support our children through this horrific tragedy. As a parent of young children and an educator, I have been overcome with emotion many times over the past 48 hours and have spoken with many of you who have had the same reaction. Our charge as adults in this time of crisis is to provide our children with support and guidance as they seek to understand and process their own emotions and reactions to this senseless act of violence," Cummings wrote in Sunday's letter.

On Monday afternoon, Cummings emailed parents again, letting them know that the students had engaged in conversations with teachers about the tragedy, and that many had sought the available counseling.

"Standing at four corners toward the end of the day, the noise levels in the hallway were picking back up after a somber morning. Many students expressed that they were happy to get back into their classes, and appreciated the opportunity to balance their need to talk with a return to their routines. At dismissal, students were walking with friends and making plans," Cummings wrote.

Extra counseling and support will continue to be available at Conard as well as other schools in the district throughout the week.

On Tuesday night, the West Hartford Board of Education is expected to discuss security procedures, said Town Manager Ron Van Winkle.

Conard advised parents of the following resources, which are also also available on the school's website:

Resources for Parents:

After the Trauma: Helping My Child Cope UCLA Center of Mental Health in Schools

After the Trauma: Helping My Child Cope (Spanish) UCLA Center of Mental Health in Schools

Common Reactions After Trauma The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Coping with Crisis: Helping Children with Special Needs National Association of School Psychologists

Coping with Violence and Traumatic Events    Tips for parents in talking with their children by various age groups in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope National Association of School Psychologists Guidelines for Working with Traumatized Children
Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do to Help    National Institute of Mental Health

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy Related Anxiety Mental Health America
Helping your children manage distress in the aftermath of a shooting American Psychological Association

Identifying Seriously Traumatized Children: Tips for Parents and Educators National Association of School Psychologists

Managing Strong Emotional Reactions to Traumatic Events: Tips for Parents and Teachers National Association of School Psychologists

Parent Guidelines for Helping Youth after the Recent Shooting    National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Psychological Impact of the Recent Shooting    National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Talking to Children about Community Violence    By David Fassler, M.D.

Talking to Children about the Shooting National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Talking to Children about School Shootings    American Psychological Association

Talking to Children About Violence    National Association of School Psychologists

Talking to Children About Violence (Spanish) National Association of School Psychologists

Talking to Children About Violence (Korean) National Association of School Psychologists

Tips for Supporting Children and Youth After a Crisis Event National Association of School Psychologists

Tips for Helping PreSchool and School Children After Disasters National Center for Child Traumatic Stress

Tips for Talking to Children About the Shooting.    New York Times article by Robert Abramovitz, MD.


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