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Unspeakable Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School

David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)
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Editor's note: See David Markus's latest blog, "One Week Later: Healing Sandy Hook."

Words fail. Our hearts are broken. Only deeds matter after tragedy takes away our children and the adults who teach and care for them. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

President Obama spoke to the nation about this morning's heartbreaking events.

Below are resources we've gathered that may help you and your children in this wrenching time.

How to Talk to Your Kids About School Violence (NBC)

NBC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman spoke with Brian Williams about talking with your children regarding violence in schools. A brief overview of tips accompanies the video.

View Violence Through Your Child's Eyes (PBS Parents)

PBS Parents produced this package, which focuses on providing kids context for the news. Strategies for soothing and communicating with children following tragedies covered by the media are also included.

Explaining the News to Our Kids (Common Sense Media)

Tips, strategies, and impactful ways for parents to talk with their children about tragedies is covered in this article from Common Sense Media.

Here for Each Other: Helping Families After An Emergency -- PDF (Sesame Workshop)

This Sesame Workshop resource for parents and caregivers provides an outline for responding to tragedy, including communication tips and strategies for support.

Helping Teens Cope: A Guide for Parents (NYU Child Study Center)

New York University's Child Study Center produced this guide for parents, which provides advice for helping teens cope with school violence.

Resources: Talking and Teaching About the Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (New York Times Learning Network)

A thorough list of links to New York Times content for teaching students about tragic events, as well as links to sources across the Web.

More Resources for Responding to Tragedy from Edutopia

More Resources From Around the Web

David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)

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M. A. Hauck, M.Ed's picture
M. A. Hauck, M.Ed
Life Skills Support Teacher

I hope that teachers do not use this tragic event as a pretext to indulge any anti-Second Amendment rhetoric like so many in the government and the news media already have.

Maurice Elias's picture
Maurice Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service

I appreciate this post and hope that it will generate important conversations. The tragedy of this event is so deep and profound that it is unfathomable, and hence, unspeakable. But speak we must, about how to provide support for the children, families, and residents of Newtown, whose lives have been transformed by the shooting. We must speak about children too young to understand now but who will in future years and will need support then. We must speak about the teachers and other staff in that school and how they will be able to continue in their work. And we must speak about the victims of Hurricane Sandy, and the returning veterans from the Middle East and their families and children and the ongoing support they need. We must speak about the social-emotional needs of all children, of all citizens, and how these were already neglected prior to Newtown. That horrific tragedy made clear what already should have been clear, which is how many lives are diminished, as well as lost, when we do not provide social-emotional supports for children and families in schools and communities.
It is time to raise our voices together, in common, to put children first, and to elevate in importance the everyday tragedies that impact children's social-emotional, character, and academic development and well-being. There is a lot of work to do.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

I think a reasonable conversation about the Second Amendment is always a good thing- any reasonable debate over constitutional issues is a good thing, since Jeffersonian Democracy requires all hands (and brains) on deck in order to function. That being said, the most human thing to do now is to give these families their privacy and allow them their grief.

On a related note, I noticed that this month's Kappan (http://www.kappanmagazine.org) focuses on Recovering When the Unthinkable Happens at Your School. I haven't had time to really dig into this issue (it just arrived yesterday), but I think it's an important one to hold on to. Unfortunately, I don't think we've seen the last of tragedies like this.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

As the one-year anniversary approaches, I'm seeing more and more resources popping up on Twitter. Here's one I really enjoyed:


Here's an excerpt:

Sandy Hook Elementary School teacher Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis '05 (ED), '06 MA always felt that teaching kindness was a critical lesson for her young students - perhaps no more so than in the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of six of her colleagues and 20 Sandy Hook students last December.

As countless gifts and messages of compassion poured into the school and uplifted her first-graders in the months that followed, the UConn alum sought a way to teach her students how to pay that kindness forward. "Eventually I just realized that when you get, you have to give," Roig-DeBellis says.

Launching a nonprofit called Classes 4 Classes earlier this year, Roig-DeBellis has made the act of giving an engaging, tangible experience in her own classroom, as well as in many other classrooms nationwide. The organization, whose mission is to teach every child in America to have an interest in the well-being of others, invites K-5 teachers and their students to become sponsors for other K-5 classrooms elsewhere in the country - for instance, by helping to raise funds for the purchase of much-needed school supplies, a field trip, or a guest speaker for a classroom in need.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

That's really lovely. I think it's important to teach kids that no matter what, we can make sure that love wins. It's about what we give our energy to, isn't it?

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

This is so hard- to think of teachers and students being vulnerable, and the initial reaction to do anything to keep our schools safe. But I also think it's so important to remember that we can't put our kids into lock down every day- we are sending them to schools, not prisons. When I heard our principal along with others were actually pricing out bulletproof glass after Sandy Hook, i was both saddened and upset. What if kids need to break that glass to get out in event of a fire, a much more likely occurrence than a mass shooting? Or what if they had to get out during an emergency of any sort?
The hardest thing of all is embracing uncertainty and remembering that by making our schools more of the center of a community, more about acceptance and nurturing and caring for each and every student, the greater chance we have of avoiding the kind of craziness that occurred.

We have to balance safety and risk. We aren't always perfectly safe, even driving to school, but we can't live being afraid of everything either. It's a very tough time in American Schools.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program

Well said Whitney. We can't let fear become the driver for decision making. I'm always surprised at the amount of security theatre schools engage in. Whether it's the secretary tasked with buzzing in all visitors and someone assuring that they aren't intent on destruction (even though she also tasked with 100,000 other important jobs) to the insistence that teachers and students wear name badges to "prove" they belong on campus...very little of it actually makes anyone any safer. It does, however, make us feel like Something Is Being Done.

I just wish the Something was better access to mental health resources.

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

And when I think of all the time and money that's spent on the theatre of security, its incredibly frustrating.

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