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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

A weekend interview with ...



... Tracy Schatzberg, supervisor of psychological services for Hillsborough County schools. Schatzberg, who has held the post for two years, has worked in schools and at the district level dealing with crises large and small. She has a doctorate in school psychology from the University of Sarasota. She spoke with the Gradebook about how families and schools can cope with April 16-20, the week that has come to be associated with school violence.

Q: Talk about how we as school, students, teachers principals and parents need to steel ourselves ...

A: ... from all this. I wish I had these really great answers to say. We can talk about some tips and things to keep in mind. But it's hard to predict what every child will ask. So I would encourage adults, first off, to really take time to listen to their children's questions, or for teachers to listen to their students' questions and comments, and really try not to say things like, 'Don't feel that way.' We need to validate what they're feeling and reassure them about their safety. I think it's important to keep in mind that violence isn't really specifically a school problem. It's more of a problem that we have in society. And while we've had these things like Columbine and Virginia Tech close together (by date), some of the safest places for kids to be are at school. We have to really make sure that our children know they should feel safe at school and that our schools are taking a lot of steps to ensure their safety.

Q: What kinds of things are schools doing? And how can we feel confident knowing that these things have happened in schools?

A: Here in Hillsborough County ... we have a comprehensive emergency management plan. ... Each school has a CEMP and in that CEMP we have contingencies for just about anything you can think of. So schools know step by step, should an emergency arise, here's the plan. And we practice those plans. ...

Q: In addition to practicing all those steps, I'm sure you talk to all the school guidance counselors, psychologists and so forth and make sure they have a plan in place, too. I've heard a lot about the SWAT teams ...

A: Each school does have its own crisis team set up. It depends on what the crisis is. I'm thinking back to when I used to work at an elementary school I was part of the crisis team. And when we had a drill for a bomb scare ... we would each take a role and so we had that planned ahead of time. That could be searching a location, it could be getting students to a specific location. All of that is delineated ahead of time, so each person at school knows what their role is. And then we have back up people, so if the person is not there that day, we know who takes up that role.

Q: So then what do you say to a parent or child who says, 'I'm afraid of school. I'm afraid of what's going on in the community. I can't trust the person sitting next to me'?

A: It's important for parents to voice those concerns to the school administrator or the people in the school system rather than to their children. There's no sense saying to their children, 'I'm not sure if you should be in school.' I think that might not help. It's better to get answers to the questions that parents have. So if they really want to know what procedures their school has in place to keep things from happening, I encourage them to talk with the principal at that site, to ask those questions. And as far as students go, we talk with them and let them know that they are safe. And they see signs at school, visitors signing in at the office. ... In general, schools have put a lot of safety features in place. We have gate systems at most schools. ... And doors where you can get out if you need to but outsiders can't necessarily come in. When children have questions, we have to really listen to the specific question that they have and be as honest as we can. To let them know we're taking every step we can to keep them safe.

Q: And so your recommendation to parents is not to necessarily tell their children 'I'm scared for you,' but to do something about it?

A: Yes. To get answers to their questions, so they can reassure their children that school is a safe place and here's what they are doing. And when they come across a safety feature, that's a great time to say, 'See this fence. This is what the school is doing to keep you safe.'...

Q: Now that you have all these things that are becoming this week of nasty remembrances, how do get to the point where it just becomes something that you're mindful of but it doesn't become overwhelming?

A: I really think parents probably ought to turn off the TV. That's one thing. I'm not saying we ought to not let children know what's going on. But I think there is a tendency in the media to play these images over and over again. I think we should turn off the TV. Because television coverage can reinforce or stimulate the fear that the children are having. Even at hurricane time. There's no sense in having the TV on 24/7. Get the information you need and shut it off. I also encourage routine. There may be crisis situations going on, loss out there in the world. But we still need to stick with our routines, so our kids are still getting up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, eating at the same time, so our kids feel structure. Structure helps them feel secure.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:16am]


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