Editor’s Note: The following is a letter to Inver Grove Heights community members from Superintendent Deirdre Wells. The letter, dated Dec. 17, appears on the Inver Grove Heights Schools’ website.
Dear Community Members,
Today we are faced with a senseless act of violence. I would like to offer my deepest condolences to those in Connecticut. My heart goes out to the families and loved ones as they deal with this difficult situation in the coming days, weeks, and months.
It is unspeakable moments like this that bring fear and many questions regarding school safety from not only students, parents and community, but staff as well. We here at ISD 199 will be using this time to take another good look at the safety protocols that have been developed and practiced in our district so that staff and volunteers will be prepared in the event that we find ourselves in such an unthinkable situation. While it is impossible to totally predict what is necessary to be prepared, there is no doubt that the impacts of this event will be felt by the students, parents and staff of our community. Attached you will find a document that can be used as a resource to help with any questions you may receive from students of Inver Grove Heights Community Schools. Please feel free to call your building principal with any questions you may have.
Each principal has been aware of certain actions that they must take this day and this week. We are taking extra measures at our oldest facilities this week to provide a greater sense of security for students and staff. It is our intention to assure our students and our staff that we will do whatever we can in our environments so that in the end each child will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Dr. Deirdre Wells
Inver Grove Heights Community Schools
Wells’ letter also contained the following information from the Minnesota Department of Education:
TALKING ABOUT THE NEWS
The news of the school shooting that happened today can be very scary for a lot of children. The challenge in helping them cope with today’s events is that it is also scary for many adults. Here are some pointers.
Adults’ Role. Try to be calm and focused for the children. Adults need to get the support they need from other adults so we are able to effectively guide the children.
Talk and Listen. Find out what children’s fears, concerns are and address them as directly and calmly as possible. Reassure them that adults are there to help and protect. Circles and dialogues are ways to help children talk about their feelings and what they can do to cope. After giving children time to talk, return to the regular school routine.
Use your resources. School staff should remember that there are community groups and organizations that are willing and able to help you talk to children, including counselors, members of the faith community, public health, and sexual assault and domestic abuse programs. Pay attention to their needs.
WHAT TO SAY OR DO AFTER A TRAGEDY
After a local or national tragedy, it is very important to make time for discussions about what happened among family members, staff, children and youth. Here is a suggested format for a classroom or group discussion:
In a classroom or group setting, a circle process is a useful method to have a discussion. But with any process used:
• Allow everyone to speak; to ensure that everyone has the chance to speak, go in order around the circle or rows;
• Reinforce positive social norms and values of the group, even if anti-social statements are made;
• Recognize that difficult feelings are normal, natural and need to be expressed, but need to be handled respectfully and in a manner that de-escalates conflict rather than fuels it;
• Build communication and connection and defuse tension by inviting people to share their thoughts and feelings.
“What has happened today is sad and painful. What we know at this point is: (give facts as you know them.)
“When bad or scary things happen it is important to take a big breath or whatever it is you do to help calm down. Pay attention to the facts. Be careful not to spread rumors.
“Be careful to stay out of dramatizing the drama – which means try to calm yourself and others instead of fanning the excitement.
“That said, it is still important for you, the students and me to be able to express our feelings and share our thoughts and concerns. Let us go around the classroom (or circle) and talk about what has happened.”
Possible Discussion Questions:
Using a circle process, each participant can have the opportunity to address each question.
• What have you heard about the incident?
• How are you feeling about what happened?
• How did what you heard or saw affect you?
• Who are your friends, supporters and resources for help?
• How can you be a friend or peacemaker to other students and adults in this classroom or school?
As a closing statement at the end of the discussion, encourage care in this time of stress and confusion.
“Remember small acts of disrespect can lead to violence. But small acts of kindness and peacemaking have the power to stop violence and create peace. This is the time to practice acts of respect and kindness. Help each other out. Solve any conflicts or disagreements peacefully. Talk to me or other adults if you have further questions or concerns.”
For further resources, contact the Safe and Healthy Learners Unit of MDE, 651-582- 8433.