December 16, 2012

Dear Hampton Bays’ School Community:

I’m sure that throughout this weekend, your minds and hearts have been focused on those impacted in Newtown, CT.  We struggle to process such an unconscionable act of gun violence and even more incomprehensible fact that it was brought upon the lives of children and teachers. We begin by mourning the lives lost and expressing heartfelt thoughts and prayers for those who must rebuild their own lives, both in school and at home in their new reality.

Moving forward in Hampton Bays, we are in the “ready position” to receive students tomorrow, ready to meet their needs and keep them focused on the positive act of learning. It is important to state clearly that the Hampton Bays Public Schools is a safe place. That said, the district administration and building leadership will be meeting with School Emergency Response Teams on Monday to review our own safety program with the objective of continuously improving in light of what we can learn from Newtown.
As adults, we know that children are keenly aware of the expressions on adults' faces and the tones of their voices, especially after a tragedy; children look to adults for guidance and protection.  No matter what children know about a crisis, it's especially scary for children to realize that adults are affected, too.  Below are some thoughts that might be helpful in supporting our children in the days and week's ahead.

The Hampton Bays Schools are a Safe Place
~We regularly practice evacuation, lockdown, and lockout drills.  Our safety plan is modeled from the NYS Center for School Safety. 
~Our security guards are law enforcement professionals who take their jobs very seriously; only people who have a justified reason to come to school are allowed in the buildings.  Otherwise, all doors to campuses are locked and only authorized visitors are allowed entry.

Children will benefit from adults who take the lead after a tragedy.
~Care and reassure students that they will be ok;
~Maintain routines;
~Show empathy for the emotions children feel and take time to listen;
~Provide a variety of methods to express reactions - writing and speaking are key!

It is O.K. to be upset for the victims.
This was a tragedy.  If we put ourselves in the situation, perhaps we can imagine how sad or upset we would be.  But remember, we are safe and have many safety precautions in place to keep us that way. 

Calmly stick to the facts.
~Model calm and control, as children take their emotional cues from you;
~Tell children the un-embellished truth, not the truth according to Facebook or what was "heard."  Don't embellish or speculate about what has happened or might happen.  Don't dwell on the scale or scope of the tragedy.

Be Developmentally Appropriate.
~Early elementary children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that the daily structures of their lives will not change.

~Upper elementary/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 fact from fantasy.

~Upper middle/high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence and threats to our safety.  They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society.  They will be more committed to taking action to help.

Focus on the Helpers.
~It is reassuring to focus on teachers, police, firemen, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and volunteers.  It's comforting to know there are so many caring people who do all they can to help others in this world.

Seek Support.
~Seek out your school if your children, especially those who display greater risk factors, need additional support.
~Seek out your own personal support network - such as family, medical professionals, clergy, or a friend - if you need additional levels of help; monitor your own stress level and don't ignore feelings of anger, grief, or stress.

On behalf of the Hampton Bays Board of Education, I thank you for your support of the Hampton Bays Public Schools and the confidence you place in us as we educate your children in a safe and nurturing environment everyday.

Lars Clemensen
Superintendent of Schools
Hampton Bays Union Free School District