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Letters

April 22, 2007

This is an open letter to Howard County school system families from Linda Wise, assistant superintendent.

Coping with tragedy of Va. Tech killings

Dear parents,

We are all saddened by the tragic events that have occurred at Virginia Tech University. The emotional impact of a tragedy of this nature can be tremendous for both adults and children. To the best of our knowledge, there were no Howard County graduates attending Virginia Tech that were victims of the shooter. We have asked staff and students to let us know if they have been impacted directly by this event and to bring this information immediately to the attention of a school administrator or member of the school crisis team.

On the day after the shooting, administrators informed staff that if any of their students needed to talk with a school counselor or psychologist about their feelings, they should be sent or escorted to the counseling center in their school. Principals received messages to share with their staff and students in all middle and high schools. School-based and central office crisis teams were put on alert and continue to be available to assist and support students and staff.

The superintendent reminds us that we are proud of our open and inviting school campuses, but are very aware of the need to protect our students, staff and visitors. Dr. [Sydney L.] Cousin and all staff in schools are committed to ensuring that Howard County public schools are safe places to work and learn. We will be reviewing security measures that have been put in place, and our security coordinator will be working with schools to discuss any security concerns that may arise.

Over the next several weeks, you may see signs of sadness in your children. For some children, these events may remind them of some other loss in their lives. Children may also begin to question issues of safety and security. Parents can support their children by allowing them to express their feelings about these events and letting them know it is normal to feel upset. Here are a few suggestions for supporting your children through the next several weeks:

Monitor your child's exposure to television and radio coverage of these events. Viewing or listening to graphic news may cause further trauma, and/or desensitize a young person to violent aspects and their consequences.

It's important to process whatever news they are receiving. Young people may believe that "nothing like that" would ever happen here. Such ideas should be explored in a supportive way that also gently reminds them that certain kinds of tragedies can touch any of us.

Conversely, a young person may feel extremely vulnerable upon hearing about these events because they occurred so close to home. These children should be encouraged to express their fears; then gently remind them that their feelings are a normal response to an abnormal event.

Encourage your children to talk with you about confusing feelings, worries and daydreams, by listening carefully. Be available and give them extra time and attention during the next few days and weeks.

Remain aware of your own reactions to your child's fears and anxiety as well as your own reactions to these events. It is OK to express your emotions to your children, "I am feeling sad about what happened." However, if you are feeling overwhelmed with emotion, it is important to take care of yourself and seek support from other members of your family, your faith community and your friends.

If you feel your child needs support, or you need additional information on how to provide support for your child at home, please feel free to contact your child's counselor or school psychologist.

The thoughts and prayers of the Board of Education, superintendent and school staff are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragic event.

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