'You just feel so helpless,' about school shootings

Communities are still reeling after the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Even those not personally affected by the tragedy deeply feel the loss of the children, principal and teachers who were killed Friday.


Schools in Harford County are doing what they can to not only protect the physical safety of their students, but also the emotional well-being.

"You just feel so helpless," John Carroll School Principal Madelyn Ball said Monday. "What happened there can happen absolutely anywhere."


The principal was in school when she got word of the tragedy and said she was "just so shocked."

Counseling is being offered to students who want to talk about the tragedy and their feelings about it.

John Carroll students are in the middle of exam week before the winter break, the principal noted.

"Exams have kind of really been the focus of our kids right now," Ball said. "They haven't had a chance to do too much else this weekend other than to study."

Counselors at the school haven't reported "an awful lot of kids" coming in to talk, she said, but the school is "very well prepared for that."

Ball said the school held a prayer service at 11:45 a.m. Monday after exams.

"We're gathering as many people as possible to pray for the families in Newtown and, of course, pray for all of those who perished," she said. "Candles will also be lit for those who died."

The school immediately had a school-wide prayer Friday after news spread of what had happened.

Ball said the prayer will "reflect in our own words and actions the changes we wish to see in the world."

Harford Day School in Bel Air is also focused on how its students are emotionally coping after the event.

"We're equally concerned about the [students'] emotional well being after this," Susan Harris, head of Harford Day School, said, adding that it has had a "profound effect on the community."

Harford Day doesn't have a guidance counselor, Harris said, so the administration draws on national organizations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists, to give information and examples on how to deal with this type of event.

Harris contacted parents over the weekend addressing the tragedy and included an article that gave tips on what's appropriate to share with their children based on age.

"We're not discussing this incident in school below the fourth grade," she explained. "We're aware that many parents have shielded their children from this information and we're going to honor that."

Teachers of students in fourth grade and older can answer questions.

"If those students want or need to talk about this, teachers are prepared to talk to fourth grade and up," Harris said. "But we're not going to bring it up directly."

Teachers are also being encouraged to direct students with questions or concerns to their advisors and will be very aware of the children's reactions and conversations about the event.

Harris praised the Town of Bel Air and Police Chief Leo Matrangola for visiting the school Monday to check security procedures and offer town support.

"[Matrangola] thought we were doing everything we should be doing," she said.

With proper procedures in place, Harris said, the school's focus will be on listening to the students and "responding to them in age appropriate ways and communicate the information we get from our student back to their families."

Harris hadn't received any questions or concerns from parents, but did get many thanks for communicating with them so quickly and for sending the tips on how to talk with the children.

"It's tough on all of us," she said. "Parents are turning to us for help with their children to get through the emotional side of this."

There will also be many conversations with teachers who have also been deeply affected by the event.

Harford County Public School Superintendent Robert Tomback contacted families with a robocall after Friday's incident, noting there will be ample opportunities for students to speak with counselors about the situation.

"While in school, students who wish to speak to someone will be afforded the opportunity to talk with their school counselor, but will be encouraged to continue the conversation at home with their loved ones," he said in the message, which is also posted on hcps.org.

The school system's manager of communications, Teri Kranefeld, noted in an e-mail Monday that school counselors will be made available for any students or staff if they need to speak to someone.

"It is appropriate to assist students if they wish to talk about the situation and to encourage students to go home and continue the discussion with their loved ones," she wrote.

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