Thank you for your interest in and support of the Valley News. We need to raise $60,000 to host journalists Frances Mize and Alex Driehaus for their one-year placements in the Upper Valley through Report for America, a national service program that boosts local news by harnessing community support.

Please consider donating to this effort.

Upper Valley schools, child psychologists navigate aftermath of Texas shooting

  • ">

    Rev. Mandy Lape-Freeberg, senior pastor of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College, right, greets Liza Hauze, middle, as she joins her husband, Rev. Jonathan Hauze, pastor of Norwich Congregational Church, left, outside the church in Norwich, Vt., following a prayer service on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, for the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. "I work in emotional support, which is a hard job on a day like today," said Liza Hauze, who walked across the street to the service from her job as an aide at Marion Cross School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Heidi Webster, of Norwich, joins in singing a hymn with 12 people who attended a prayer service at Norwich Congregational Church in Norwich, Vt., on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, for the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. Webster offered a prayer during the service for a friend of her daughter's who was recently killed in another incident of gun violence in Texas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • The Rev. Mandy Lape-Freeberg, senior pastor of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College, steps up to the altar at Norwich Congregational Church in Norwich, Vt., to begin a prayer service on Wednesday, May 25, 2022, for the 19 children and two teachers killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. Before praying with the small gathering, Lape-Freeberg paused to listen to children playing across the street on the village green. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/26/2022 2:41:59 AM
Modified: 5/26/2022 2:42:01 AM

NORWICH — Upper Valley school and spiritual leaders on Wednesday sought to create space for people to reflect on Tuesday’s mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

“I got into education because I see the potential in kids and the potential in every kid that walks into the building,” Dothan Brook School Principal Rick Dustin-Eichler said. “To see the loss of all of that potential and all those amazing children, it’s just devastating.”

The shooting in Uvalde, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, was the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook shooting nearly 10 years ago in Newtown, Conn. It comes at a time when educators across the country, including in the Upper Valley, are worn down as they near the end of the third academic year affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dustin-Eichler said Dothan Brook teachers and school staff made time Wednesday to talk with students who wanted to do so.

“Really, it’s just we want to be empathetic listeners,” he said. “Our job isn’t right now to talk about the incident or do any of that. (It’s to) be there and listen to what kids are saying and how they’re feeling.”

In the older grades at the preK-5 school, Dustin-Eichler said some teachers held “classroom circles (to) give the kids a safe space to share their feelings and express their thoughts.”

He added that “kids are really insightful.”

Some students said they were “feeling sad for the families,” Dustin-Eichler said, while others wondered if the gunman, who died in the shooting, was a “bad person.”

Ellen Sejkora, a pediatric psychologist at Dartmouth Health Children’s, in a Wednesday news release advised that adults create opportunities for school-age children to discuss their fears and thoughts in the wake of tragedies like Tuesday’s mass shooting.

She urged adults to make sure they are emotionally ready to talk with children before beginning a conversation; use calm language children will understand to help them share their feelings; make time for a full conversation; use information that is appropriate for each child’s developmental level; ask open-ended questions about what children have heard or what questions they have; and remind children that there are people working to keep them safe.

“Young people can get very creative about ‘worst-case scenarios,’ and their conclusions can be inaccurate, negative and often scary,” Sejkora said in the release. “This is why it is so important to create a space for children to discuss their fears or thoughts and to engage in open dialogue and positive, problem-focused ways of coping.”

The Rev. Jonathan Hauze, who leads the Norwich Congregational Church, organized a service of prayer and lament on Wednesday afternoon. The church sits across Route 5 from Marion Cross School, which includes grades K-6.

“As a church that wants to be there for the community, it was just the right time to open up the doors,” Hauze said. “Come here, however you are, whether you’re numb, angry or sad.”

He hoped the service, which was scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. to allow school employees to participate after school let out, would give attendees time to “pray, cry out and seek some haven and peace in a safe place.”

Mascoma Valley Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said school officials there were leaving it up to parents how much they wanted to share about the shooting with their children and that classes would not be viewing any coverage of the shooting during the school day. But, she said, school counselors and social workers were “at the ready” to support students. She also planned to visit schools on Wednesday afternoon to “make sure that everybody feels OK.”

“This will cause some anxiety,” Isabelle said of the shooting. “... People in general are anxious now, this only adds to it.”

In a meeting with administrators on Wednesday morning, Isabelle said she encouraged them to take “a more proactive rather than reactive approach.”

By getting to know students and making sure they have a trusted adult to confide in, Isabelle said she’s hopeful that other acts of violence can be prevented.

“We can really work ... to ... build those relationships with kids (to) support them with any anxiety or mental health issues that they might have,” she said.

But, she added, schools can’t do it alone.

Schools “always need more mental health resources,” she said. “Communities in general do not have those in place.”

Similarly, Matthew Isham, deputy chief of the Lebanon Police Department, said that collaboration is key to preventing such tragedies in the future.

The department works with the Lebanon School District to conduct training on school grounds when school is not in session, and they work together on emergency planning. In addition, they have adopted an alert system in the schools that opens a direct link between police and schools.

“If something like this did happen, which I hope it never does, I believe we’re prepared,” Isham said.

Isham said the school resource officer is one of the people at Lebanon High School “that gets a vibe for what’s going on in the school.”

“Maybe this kiddo’s having a tough time,” Isham said. “It gives that smooth transition between us all.”

Isham urged community members who hear something or see something that might be a sign of an intent to commit violence to report it.

“School counselors can’t get involved if they don’t know about it,” he said.

But some in the Upper Valley were skeptical that such tragedies will be prevented in the future, given evidence from the past.

“I fear that we’ll do again what we always do in the wake of these horrific shootings: We’ll express our sympathy, honor the victims and survivors and watch the inevitable political stalemate,” SAU 70 Superintendent Jay Badams said Wednesday. “Robb Elementary School will lengthen the already shameful list of schools and towns devastated by these events while our leaders debate whether we need more gun laws or to enforce existing ones, whether we need more mental health resources or more law enforcement, whether we need to ‘harden’ our schools or hire security staff, when we probably need some combination of all of these.

“Sadly, history would suggest that the debate will continue our national paralysis when we desperately need to work together to solve this terrible problem.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.




Valley News

24 Interchange Drive
West Lebanon, NH 03784
603-298-8711

 

© 2021 Valley News
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy