By Alex Lippa
---- — President Barack Obama spoke for the nation yesterday when he said “every parent in America has a heart heavy with hurt.”
The hurt caused by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut has reawakened an awareness by parents, school administrators and others about how such tragedies can affect us all, especially children, and the need for support and protection from harm.
Haverhill Superintendent James Scully said yesterday staff will be available tomorrow in all schools to support students.
“We will have school staff that can field questions and help children who may have questions and troublesome feelings,” Scully said.
Scully also said he has been in contact with Haverhill police Chief Alan DeNaro and there will be an increased police presence at all the schools tomorrow.
“The issue that is in many people’s minds everyday is that there is always the possibility of these things happening,” Scully said. “People trust us with their children and that is a sacred trust.”
School districts around the region sent letters to families with suggestions on how parents should tell their children about the tragedy.
“As parents, you will want to decide how best to talk with your child or children about the incident,” wrote Salem, N.H. Superintendent Michael Delahanty. “For all children it will be important to minimize exposure to television news reports. Let your child take the lead regarding how much or how little to discuss this, but provide an understanding ear and listen to your child’s concerns. After talking with your child, if you feel it will help to have your child talk with somebody at school, please notify the school principal.”
Scully said it’s important to make a delicate balance between being safe and frightening the children.
“We can’t make schools lockdown like a prison,” Scully said. “But we have to do what’s reasonable and do what’s best to prevent what happened yesterday.”
The international organization Save the Children, headquartered only 20 miles from where the killings occurred in Newtown, Conn. opened up a “child friendly space” in the community to give local children a place to play while their parents seek counseling and support.
The group said parents and other adults should listen to children carefully, reassure them, give them extra time and attention, be a model for them of sensitivity to others, and help them return to their normal routine.
In Delahanty’s letter, he said that all the schools are as prepared as they can be for such an event.
“We’re confident we have practices and protocols in place – emergency procedures that are routinely practiced – and intended to prepare for such circumstances,” Delahanty wrote. “Please understand that no amount of preparation or planning can prevent such a tragedy from occurring, but it can help us to be prepared.”
Andover Superintendent Marinel McGrath also sent a letter to the community.
“An event such as this is so difficult for any age child or adult to absorb, as we all have connections to school and we all feel this deeply,” McGrath wrote.
Dr. Jayan Marie Landry, the CEO/Executive Director of Trauma Intervention Programs of the Merrimack Valley, said that her staff is prepared if a similar tragedy were to happen in the area.
“We deal with individuals right away to offer them support and provide a sense of structure and relief,” Landry said.
Landry said they are on call 24 hours a day to be ready to respond to any sort of tragedy.
They receive a call from law enforcement and try to be ready to contact family members of victims within an hour.
“We are really focused on what we call the forgotten victims,” Landry said. “They aren’t the physical victims, but they are the ones who may have psychological problems.”
A volunteer from Landry’s team, a local policeman, a state policeman and a clergy member will go to a family’s homes to deliver news about a victim. The policemen will deliver the news and give them as much detail as they can about the event. The policemen will then leave and the volunteer and clergy member will be there to support the families and answer any further questions they may have.
Landry took time to applaud some of the efforts done by teachers in Connecticut.
“As students were walking out of the school, teachers were protecting them from viewing bodies,” Landry said. “The state of Connecticut also assigned a state trooper to be in touch with every single family of the victims.”
While shopping yesterday, Sveta Ivanovich, a parent of three Andover children, said she divulged very little about the tragedy to her children, but she did do one thing as soon as she got home.
“I gave them a big hug and told them I loved them,” Ivanovich said.
Lawrence vigil planned
In Lawrence, Mayor William Lantigua and local clergy will host a prayer vigil at Lawrence City Hall at 6 p.m. tomorrow to offer support and sympathy for the victims.
“All are invited to attend as we gather as Lawrencians with community leaders to share our sorrow over such an evil act of violence,” the mayor’s chief economic development director Patrick J. Blanchette said.
People interested in the prayer vigil can call the Mayor’s Office at 978 620-3013.
Superintendent/receiver Jeffrey C. Riley said every school in Lawrence Public Schools has specific “crisis plans” in place to protect children and staff from situations like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“The plans are updated regularly and distributed to every staff member,” Riley said.
“The district engages in practice drills in every school with students, including lock in place, intruder alerts. The district has increased its safety staffing this year to 36 men and women who are re-trained and re-certified annually,” he said.
“They work with a team of four School Resource Officers from the Lawrence Police Department to keep our schools safe. Finally, as part of our push to upgrade facilities, we have updated and are continuing to update our surveillance (with dvr) and buzzer entry systems throughout the district,” he said.