San Bernardino Teachers Help Students Cope With Tragedy

By Kristine Kim — December 04, 2015 2 min read
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Teachers in San Bernardino, Calif., sought to make classrooms as normal as possible for students this week after 14 people were killed and 21 injured in the mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center on December 2.

The district’s Director of Communications, Linda Bardere, said councilors started preparing talking points for teachers as early Wednesday, the day of the shooting, in case students returned on to school traumatized, according to Southern Calif. Public Radio.

“We are working with our teachers union on refining these tips in case students are experiencing what is known as a loss of safety—meaning they are feeling like their community is not safe. So we are anticipating that our students might experience a loss of safety,” Bardere said.

The teachers were also provided with general guidelines from the district and from the National Association of School Psychologists to guide conversations on the topic of violence.

The district’s guidelines included a tip sheet to guide the conversations that they’d surely have with their students: stick with the facts, do not give unnecessary details, do not offer opinions or personal stories, and assure safety.

The NASP offered general tips to teachers on engaging conversations age-appropriate about violence with students. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Early elementary school children should be approached with simple and reassuring discussion. The information should be simple. Provide plenty of reassurance about the safety of schools and homes and provide reminders of school safety drills and procedures.

  • Upper elementary and early middle school students tend to voice their thoughts through questions about the validity of their safety. With these students, teachers are encouraged to discuss school and community leaders’ efforts to ensure safety.

  • Upper middle school and high school students may pose as a more challenging group. Older students tend to have stronger and varying opinions about what causes violence and how to maintain safety. Teachers are advised to emphasize the students’ role in following school guidelines to maintain and secure their safety. Accessible support for emotional students was also readily provided.

Director of alternative programs for the San Bernardino district, Laura Stratachan, emphasized the presence of the crisis team in the district, in place to support students and staff, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Lorinda Ordaz, a member of the district’s crisis response team, hoped parents would bring students to school to interact and talk with the school district’s crisis team on Friday, following a low attendance rate on Thursday, according to the Press-Enterprise, in Southern Calif.

Counselors can talk to students about coping strategies, how to talk about their feelings, or getting back to their normal routines, said Ordaz.

Toni Woods, principal of Antón Elementary School, cautioned her students to refrain from offensive language or to refer to the perpetrators as horrible people. “We can’t make those judgements and can’t make those assumptions until we know the whole story,” Woods told the Press-Enterprise.

Added teacher Dayna Brown: “I tell them, ‘You wouldn’t like anyone to look at you based on your race or your religion or anything like that,” she said. “My goal is not to blanket a whole group for the actions of a few.”

Photo: Candles are placed at a makeshift memorial near the community center in San Bernardino, Calif., site of the mass shooting on Dec. 2.—Jae C. Hong/Associated Press.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.