The school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that sent a nation to its knees in mourning is reverberating across the U.S. in more than the obvious ways. On Monday, teachers of the country’s youngest students stood in front of their classrooms knowing they might need to address the senseless day of violence with them.
Leticia Caratachea, an intervention specialist at Dream Charter school in Harlem, New York, works with young children in small group settings and supports teachers in the classroom. She explained important things to remember when speaking to young students.
“A child that is 5 years old is very different from a 10-year-old,” she says. “A younger child is more ego-centric. They want to know, ‘How is this going to affect me? Am I in danger.’”
She said the key with young children is to get them to express their feelings by drawing or playing or crying or being angry. “Older children on the other hand are still developing but can express themselves with more clarity than a 5-year-old,” she says.
Raquel E. Marquez, a magnet lead teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina talked about what her district identified as the most important thing to get across to the children.
“The first thing is you want to reassure our children that they are safe in our school,” she says, adding that school counselors informed teachers of what they should say to the children.
“A child six years or younger, you want to let them know the bad people are gone and the good people are here now to help,” she says.
The second part of the post-Sandy Hook climate, according to Marquez, is for educators to re-evaluate the plans that are in place should an intruder enter the school. “It’s about not only what we say to the children but also how we make changes and what we do as adults,” she concluded.
Another important wrinkle in preparing students is the recognition that special needs children may need alternative or additional support.
“For example children with autism don’t understand a lot of things in the same ways, so you have to take a different approach,” says Silvia Santiago, a public school speech pathologist who provides services to children with a variation of disabilities and classifications.
“You want to share social stories with them that have pictures and illustrate what you mean when you say if there’s danger get under the table,” Santiago says.
“The picture will show if the alarm goes off get under the desk. You make it visual and practice with them and get across how critical it is to listen to teachers.”