Every level of the PW School District sprang into action on Tuesday, Sept. 11, a now infamous day, as the horrific terrorist attacks unfolded in Manhattan and in Washington D.C. Providing information only when appropriate, and support from counselors, teachers, psychologists and social workers across the district, seemed, for the most part, to reassure students.
On the elementary level, School District Superintendent, Dr. Albert Inserra, said, on Sept. 11, that every K - 5 student's residence was contacted to ensure that an adult would be home for them. But as an additional safeguard, Port teachers rode on the school buses. "Crisis teams were ready during the school day," Dr. Inserra added.
The day following the attack, Sept. 12, "We took a pro-active approach" said the Superintendent. He described psychologists and counselors going into classrooms to assist worried students. "We wanted to create a climate of calm, to be there for them, and allow them to talk, if they wanted," he said. When he visited several schools, he described the students and the atmosphere as "quiet...and numb."
Guggenheim principal, Linda Creash, echoed these sentiments, saying they worked to "make sure the kids have an ample opportunity to express their feelings, talk to school psychologists and the guidance counselor." Moreover, "Teachers are looking for kids who are having trouble with this tragedy," she said. Plans have already been formulated at Guggenheim to create a "We Feel" banner, where children and adults can express themselves. They will also be collecting items needed in downtown Manhattan, and a second collection will be conducted for the Red Cross. In short, "We are trying to send the message to children that they are safe at school and safe at home, to restore a sense of security," she said.
At Sousa Elementary School, Dr. David Meoli said just two days after the attack, "We are almost back to normal." Supportive services were also made available, and the few children "who were shaky" were quickly helped. After having lengthy discussions with teachers and parents, they decided to hold the Sousa Open House on Wednesday, Sept. 12, as previously scheduled. In agreement with other educators, "we are trying to re-establish normalcy," Dr. Meoli said.
At Schreiber H.S., principal Dr. Sid Barish said, "Overall, everyone has reacted incredibly well under the shocking circumstances." On Sept. 11, televisions were on in the cafeteria and other places in the school. Dr. Barish provided periodic updates as well. Counselors were made available, and some students took advantage of their services. "Counselors also went into the cafeteria and other student gathering places," he said. Counselors and psychologists continued to be available to students in the days that followed.
For teachers, Dr. Barish distributed materials from the NYU Child Study Center, which included guidelines for professionals and parents to help young people cope with death and grief. Reassuring and comforting the students, reminding them of the country's resilience and strength, as well as the availability of supportive services, Dr. Barish said they also strove to maintain a sense of normalcy. "It is easier to cope in a stable setting," the principal said.
Two days after the attack, several of the district personnel interviewed said they had not heard of any public school students who had lost a loved one or had a missing family member. This is not the case in some of the neighboring communities, and as a result, Dr. Inserra offered our help to them. "We continue to pray we can return to normalcy," the Superintendent reflected. "Yet we are aware of the impact on our students and our staff...We will get through it together."