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Abington's Superintendent Sends Letter in Wake of Sandy Hook

Abington Superintendent Amy Sichel sends a letter home to parents and guardians following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

 

Dear Parents/Guardians:

The Abington School District joins the nation in expressing our sadness and shock at the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this heartbreaking tragedy. In light of this tragic event, if your child expresses any concerns about possible threats, please contact the school principal or administration immediately.

It is important to keep in perspective that an event like this is rare. Schools are one of the safest places for children and youth during the school day. The Abington School District has extensive security measures. Exterior doors are locked and visitors must sign in at the main office. There are alarms, video surveillance, and security personnel in key areas. Please contact your building principal immediately if you see any areas of vulnerability including propped doors, improper locking of entrance doors, etc.

We have an Emergency Operations Plan that guides our response and was prepared in collaboration with the Abington Township Police Department. Over the weekend I spoke with Chief William Kelly. The police are always welcomed in the schools, and the chief and I have agreed to increase the police presence in the buildings. Staff is trained to implement emergency procedures and participates in practice drills throughout the year. Students receive training as well, including participation in lockdown drills. We will continue to work with the Abington Township Police Department to review our emergency procedures as more is learned from this tragic incident.

Our schools are an important place for students to receive support, and it is important to return to provide normalcy. Communication and collaboration among schools, parents, and communities is critical to ensure that our students continue to view schools as safe, caring, and supportive environments. Further, how adults react to this tragedy can shape the way children and youth react and their perceptions of safety.

Families are encouraged to spend time together, validate children’s feelings, ask for help as needed, and find calm and relaxing activities to do at home. It is very important to limit children’s exposure to media coverage, particularly for young children. If children are watching the news or accessing information online, parents should be available to talk to their children about it.

Most children and youth are resilient and will cope well with the support and caring of their families, teachers, friends, and other caring adults. However, young children may have particular difficulty understanding and describing their feelings and emotions. Some tips to help children deal with the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

Provide a developmentally appropriate, clear, and straightforward explanation of the event.

  • Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safeand that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.
  • 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 (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

Provide normalcy and routine to the best extent possible while maintaining flexibility:

Limit television viewing of these events.

Limit television viewing 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.

Let children know it is appropriate to feel upset or angry

  • Be a good listener and observer
  • Provide various ways for children to express emotion, either through journaling, writing letters, talking, making a collage, or music
  • Focus on resiliency as well as the compassion of others

This is an extremely important time to reinforce children’s natural resilience and emphasize the preventive steps that schools can take to maintain a safe and caring school environment.            Please know that school psychologists and school counselors are available if you have concerns about your child’s reaction to recent events. Also again please contact your building principal with any question.

I wish for a safe, peaceful, and happy holiday season for our community and our nation.

Very truly yours,

Amy Sichel

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