Many Schools' Assignment: Helping Kids Understand

January 18, 1991|By Randi Henderson | Randi Henderson,Sun Staff Correspondent

EDGEWOOD — Edgewood

The day after war broke out in the Gulf, Amy Hawk found more at her school than a place to study, take exams and hang out with her friends.

"School kind of explains things," said the Edgewood High School senior. "It gives stability. It lets us know what's going on."

Her government teacher, Charles Hanssen, agreed that schools have a role to play in times of national crisis.

"Our job is to be objective, to keep the students informed," he said. "It's not to promote the peace movement or the pro-war sentiment, but to allow students to make informed judgments based on fact rather than emotion."

Around Maryland yesterday, school administrators and faculty were inviting classroom discussion about the war, offering counseling to youngsters who seemed especially upset and generally keeping track of the effect of the news on their students.

Edgewood principal Carl Roberts may have gone a step further than most in his assessment of what he and his staff can do for students at the Harford County school where -- because of proximity to Edgewood Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground -- many students have parents who serve in the military or have defense-related jobs.

"We're here to deal with whatever happens," he said simply. "We decided Monday, before the war started, that the social studies classes should provide an opportunity for dialogue every day. I've asked the teachers to keep me informed on what students are saying and feeling."

The feedback he's getting, he said, is that "students are interested and concerned. Some students have seemed especially concerned and we have referred them to our guidance department for counseling." Fewer than six students have needed such counseling, he added.

In other schools around this area, the war seems more remote than it does to Edgewood students, but it nonetheless touches lives. "This morning we asked for a moment of silence to pray for soldiers and their families," said Thomas Hensley, principal of Dulaney Senior High in Baltimore County. "The mood here has been kind of somber. The youngsters are certainly talking about the war."

The job of schools, Mr. Hensley said, should be to provide as much information as possible: "The more it's discussed, the better."

"The role of schools is to get youngsters to look at the situation analytically," said Boyse Mosley, principal of the city's Northwestern Senior High. "We have to get them to understand why the president took the position he did, and if they are opposed to the war, to get them to see how to voice their opposition in the framework of democracy." Generally, Mr. Mosley added, Northwestern students don't seem to "see the war as directly affecting their lives."

At Annapolis Senior High, students yesterday were "quiet and somber," said principal Laura Webb, who held an early-morning meeting with her faculty to discuss how to deal with the war issue. "We talked about being on the lookout for stress and anxiety," she said, telling of one case where a girl came for counseling: "She was crying and said it was because of all the babies who will be getting killed."

And how did the counselor deal with such emotion? "You just talk of the reality of what this is and what war means," said Ms. Webb, who estimated that 40 or 50 students in the school have parents in the Navy.

Although tears were not apparent at Edgewood, anxieties were not far from the surface. "I was afraid to take out the trash yesterday," confessed Elaine Williams, a senior. "Remember that scene in 'Back to the Future' when the terrorists drive by in the van, shooting? That's all I could think of. I never did take the trash out."

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