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Reassuring Parents Upper Valley Schools Are Safe

  • Outside the Enfield Village School, Ariel Vanesse waits in her truck to pick her daughter up after school yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Outside the Enfield Village School, Ariel Vanesse waits in her truck to pick her daughter up after school yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nicole Kochiss greets her daughter Caitlin when picking her up after school at the Enfield Village School yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Nicole Kochiss greets her daughter Caitlin when picking her up after school at the Enfield Village School yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Outside the Enfield Village School, Ariel Vanesse waits in her truck to pick her daughter up after school yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Nicole Kochiss greets her daughter Caitlin when picking her up after school at the Enfield Village School yesterday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Nicole Kochiss thought about not sending her kindergartner daughter and second grade son to school yesterday in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 20 first graders and six adults dead.

She even considered keeping them out of school all week, but finally decided that she couldn’t let her fear prevent her children from moving ahead with their daily routine.

“You can’t stop living. You have to keep going,” Kochiss said. “We trust very much in the teachers here, but it’s really scary. Before they were safe, now they’re not.”

But even before Kochiss dropped her children off in the morning at the Enfield Village School, the teachers and administrators inside the school were working to make it safe.

Principal Justin Benna started the day by holding a staff meeting with his teachers to address their anxieties in light of the Newtown tragedy. He and his staff then reviewed safety protocols.

Before that, Superintendent Patrick Andrew had touched base with the Enfield and Canaan Police Departments on Friday to make sure they had updated maps of the school buildings. Andrew also participated over the weekend in a statewide superintendent conference call with the New Hampshire Department of Education and the Department of Safety to discuss the best ways to advise parents about how to talk with their kids about the tragedy.

In response to the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, one of the first questions people ask is what more can we do?

But the consensus among most local superintendents and principals is that they’re already doing everything they can to keep their students safe.

For example, schools have lock-down drills and emergency procedures in the event an intruder enters the building. Many schools, like the Enfield Village School, already keep their front doors locked and have cameras monitoring the doors. When visitors approach, they must be buzzed in. And most districts already work with local police departments to ensure they are adequately prepared.

Ask any principal, and they’ll say their school is safe. But after what happened in Newtown, Conn., administrators are trying to tweak their plans and rattle their brains for additional safety protocols they can put into place.

“We work really hard at establishing trust with our students and families, and events like (Sandy Hook) have the potential to violate (that) trust, even if there isn’t something in particular that happened in our own relationship,” Benna, the Enfield Village School principal, said.

Yesterday, Andrew visited each school and tried to make it to every classroom to touch base with teachers. He even identified a few interior doors that could use better locks. He plans to go over the district’s backup plans and ensure that their are people in each building that can oversee emergency procedures in case the principal isn’t available.

The reaction to the Newtown shooting was similar in Hanover and Norwich, where Norwich Police Chief Doug Robinson stood outside Marion Cross School yesterday with Superintendent Frank Bass as students were dropped off.

Each school conducts lock-down drills at least once a year, Bass said, and he’s now weighing whether those practices should be done more frequently. The district is also looking at adding a lock system where visitors would need to be buzzed in.

“You want to make the building as safe as possible, but you also want to preserve the climate and tone of the school as much as you can,” Bass said.

But Bass stressed that these conversations didn’t start on Friday; they have been ongoing throughout the year. The Dresden School Board has dedicated the first few minutes of each School Board meeting to talking about safety.

At Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union, all of the district’s schools have magnetic keypad locks, and visitors must buzz in. The only school that doesn’t have similar locks is the Albert Bridge School in West Windsor, but Superintendent David Baker said the school had plans to install similar locks before the shooting at Sandy Hook.

The district also has lock-down drills three times a year in which the schools work with local police departments.

While watching coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting, Baker decided that he’d like to use buildings, such as the fire department, town hall or American Legion, as places to send students in case schools need to be evacuated.

He would also like to review the district’s emergency procedure and make sure it’s unified across the supervisory union.

The superintendent added that he was moved by emails he received from parents over the weekend assuring that they still have trust in the safety of their school.

“I think these stories coming out of Sandy Hook show how dedicated teachers are to the students that they serve,” Baker said. “It was heartwarming how much trust people put into their schools and into their educators.”

Baker also tried to be attentive to students’ and teachers’ emotional wellbeing. He asked that each school take a moment of silence for the victims at Sandy Hook.

He didn’t organize any school assemblies, but instead asked teachers to address the issue on their own. For seventh grade and higher, he advised teachers that they might want to broach the topic and ask students how they’re feeling.

As for the younger ones, Baker encouraged teachers to let the conversation come to them.

“We’re trying to just get through the week,” Baker said. “I think every educator feels this in a very unique way.”

Ariel Vanesse was also picking up her 7 year old daughter from the Enfield Village School yesterday afternoon, while her 10 and 13 years old rode the bus home from the middle school. She spoke with each child individually over the weekend and told them about the shooting, leaving more details out for the youngest one.

When it came time to take them to school yesterday, she said she had no hesitation because she said the teachers pay attention to her kids and love them.

“You trust because sometimes there’s nothing you can do to prevent it,” Vanesse said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.