School, police officials take action to help kids affected by tragedy

Saturday December 15, 2012

Berkshire County school officials and police officers were among those who took immediate action locally following a mass shooting that claimed 26 lives -- including 20 children -- Friday morning at an elementary school in neighboring Connecticut.

Authorities said the 20-year-old killer, carrying two handguns, committed suicide at the school, and another person was found dead at a second scene, bringing the toll to 28, according to The Associated Press.

Pittsfield Public School official Ann Marie Carpenter, a unit leader for school psychologists and school adjustment counselors, learned about the shooting while getting lunch. She said she was in immediate tears.

Carpenter convened immediately with Pittsfield School Superintendent Gordon Noseworthy to discuss what the schools’ response here would be.

That plan is that counselors and psychologists would be made available at all school sites for students on Monday, according to Carpenter.

In Lenox, Morris Elementary School Principal Timothy Lee said he was in a meeting on Friday with about 60 school administrators at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams where attendees learned about the mass shooting via cellphones and iPads.

Lee was with Principal Michael Knybel of Lenox Memorial Middle and High School. Knybel decided to request police officers to be at school on Friday afternoon as school let out. Lee said he also asked Lenox police to be at schools there.

Lee said that the Morris Elementary’s response to the tragedy would depend on the needs of the students.

"I am shocked and very disturbed," Lee said. "It’s an unimaginable tragedy. Parents send their children to school every day."

Jim Mucia, a child therapist and director of child and adolescent services for the Brien Center for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, said there will be "secondary trauma" associated with the news coverage of the shooting. The TV footage and media reports can cause harm to children, Mucia said.

Mucia urged parents to engage in conversations about what happened with their older children, and said that parents of younger children should try to explain what happens simply.

"The best thing that helps with secondary trauma is to find a balance between not overexposing the child to the event, but also not to deny or hide what happened. Everybody is going to be talking about it."

Carpenter, a licensed social worker, said parents should monitor their children and watch for abnormal behavior after they’ve been exposed to the news.

"You do want to listen and talk to the children and you do not want to avoid [the topic with] your children, but you have to be sensitive," Carpenter said.

Pittsfield Public Schools has a policy in place for an emergency situation, Carpenter said. Every year, practice drills to prepare for emergency scenarios, which include a lockdown and finding shelter.

Carpenter said that district officials were likely to convene next week to discuss how they can further assist the needs of Pittsfield students.

Carpenter said that when she went to pick up her 16-year-old daughter from school, she had already heard about it.

"There was another mother [there] and we both had tears down our face," Carpenter said about her reaction.


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