Albert Lea schools welcome students

Published 11:21am Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Every day of the school year, Hawthorne Elementary School Principal Karen Zwolenski greets her students as they walk into the building.

Monday was no different.

It was the first day back to school for students across the country since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 28 people, including the shooter.

Though many questions about the shooting remain unanswered and some parents and teachers were nervous to go back to school, Zwolenski said it is important to keep moving to the future.

“We have to just put those fears to the side when it comes to this,” Zwolenski said. “As much as our hearts are breaking for those kids in Newtown, we have to keep moving forward.”

As of midday Monday, Zwolenski said the day had been running smoothly and quietly. On Sunday, she said she talked with all of her teachers and advised them of how to handle student questions.

“The kids are going to come in, and some are going to know a lot and some are going to be oblivious,” she said.

She advised the teachers to meet the students where they were at with questions, but she also stressed the importance of keeping the students to a routine and reassuring them that teachers and adults are there to help and protect them.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said teachers throughout the district on Monday were dealing with the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in different ways depending on their grade level.

He said at least one school planned a staff meeting to discuss feedback from teachers, and students at the high school talked about the shooting during their advisory periods.

Teachers at the elementary schools were planning to send a letter home to tell parents how they addressed the situation Monday, and school social workers sent out suggestions to staff.

Zwolenski said she also reminded parents that her school has crisis drills in place and said the students practice them at least a couple of times a year.

Funk said he received a series of ideas from the Minnesota Department of Education that he has forwarded to each of the schools.

The tipsheet advises adults to be calm and focused for the children and to get the support they need from other adults so they can effectively guide the children.

Teachers should find out what children’s fears and concerns are and then address them as directly and calmly as possible.

“The news of the school shooting that happened can be very scary for a lot of children,” the Education Department tipsheet states. “The challenge in helping them cope with events is that it is also scary for many adults.”

The tips also advised school staff to remember that there are community groups and organizations that are willing tot help talk to children if necessary. It pointed out the importance of making time to discuss what happened.

Despite the efforts from teachers, some parents said they were still nervous sending their children to school Monday.

Kelly Meislahn said she was stressed and worried Monday because she recognizes that a shooting like the one at Sandy Hook can happen anywhere.

“But I was careful not to let them know how worried I was,” Meislahn said. “I don’t want my kids afraid to go to school. I was never so happy to know that the kids were safe and home.”

Brenda Avery-Ravlin said while she always tells her kids she loves them when she drops them off at school, she made sure to say it a couple times on Monday.

Rani Luna said she sent her kids off to school Monday like she does any other day, but after she did so, she thought about how her children, two third-graders and a seventh-grader, can show their support toward others. She said the kids helped her make green and white ribbon pins that they will distribute to their classmates today.