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School District Acts After Connecticut Shooting

Superintendent reassures parents of security and counseling policies

In the days following the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, CT, the response from the Garden City Public School District was instantaneous. Dr. Robert Feirsen, the district superintendent, drafted a letter that was immediately emailed to students’ parents reassuring them of the district’s efforts to provide a safe and secure environment. Among the programs in place are a detailed safety plan that is annually updated, unannounced drills and tabletop exercises that have the district interacting with first responders and safety experts. It’s this thoroughness of communication between the schools and parents that reassures PTA President Cristina Kilberg.

“We had two correspondences over the weekend—one from Dr. Feirsen assuring parents that everything was going to be taken into consideration from school security to how the children adjust to this news,” Kilberg said before adding. “We also got a correspondence from the principal of the middle school who also did the same thing—reassured parents and also provided a couple of links to places to go for [counseling] information and also what’s appropriate to tell children.”

Handling student reaction is also a paramount concern and not unlike its security policies, the district has been diligent in providing a safety net.   

“We sent out information over the weekend, [and] just reminded people how to handle this best with kids at the different developmental levels,” Dr. Feirsen explained. “We have our support staff who are willing, ready and able to intervene with assistance to any student that is exhibiting any signs of difficulty and that’s pretty much been our approach to it.”

Through a case of pure happenstance, the PTA booked Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, an adolescent medicine specialist from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, to come on Jan. 15 and conduct a full day of workshops called, “Fostering Resilience: Preparing Children and Teens to Thrive in Both Good and Challenging Times.”

“This was scheduled before the shooting. The topic is about building resilience in children. I think the timing is going to work out really well,” Kilberg said. “We’re going to have Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg come in to discuss with the children, parents and teachers a full day of workshops on building resilience in children and how to foster that. The original impetus to bring him in was because of [Hurricane] Sandy and for that reason, we thought it was a good idea.”

Despite the deluge of media coverage, Kilberg noticed the reaction from parents has been a combination of concern and calm.

“One mom said, it took a lot of courage to put her son or daughter on the bus this morning,” she recalled. “Parents are shaken up and we’re a little apprehensive this morning in sending their kids off to school with those images still in their minds of what occurred.”

And while this mother of three might share some of these concerns, the conversation she had with her youngest child focused on how society rallied around Newton’s residents.

“I told my 14-year-old son something I borrowed from the principal at the middle school that at a moment like this, [he should] think about all the people that come out and help at a moment like this rather than focusing on the violence,” Kilberg recalled. “Focus on your police officer, your fireman, your teachers, your parents, your community that run to moments like this to help when something like this happens. I showed him how people from around the country got together for the memorial and how life really does matter even if some people feel that it doesn’t.”