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Local schools strive for normalcy as students return

  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>


    Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning.


    Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning. <br/>


    Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning. <br/>


    Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>


    Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>


    Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>
  • <br/>Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning.
  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning. <br/>
  • <br/>Jean Kuhn, the school school psychologist at the Norris school in Southampton talks about the Ct. tragedy and how they will be handling things as students come to school Monday morning. <br/>
  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>
  • <br/>Dr. Bill Collins, principal of Norris Elementary school in Southampton greet students as the enter school Monday morning. <br/>

Parent Marcie Cormier watched her 7-year-old son Quinn Stoddard enter the school building to go to his first grade class Monday morning. “I debated not telling him, but I was afraid he might hear things about it,” she said. “I told him the bare minimum — that something terrible happened and if he had any questions about it to ask me or his father.”

After a two-hour delay due to slick roads, students arriving at the Norris School Monday bounded off buses, talking excitedly to friends. They were greeted cheerily by administrators, as per usual.

Ann Boulanger said she had no qualms about the safety of the Norris School, but the horrific news reports about Friday’s atrocity were hard to shake off.

“He feels safe,” she said of her 6-year-old son Jaiden, a first-grader. “But it’s still hard to let him go.”

Boulanger said she told her son that a “bad man” killed students at a school, but assured him that it wasn’t his school. “He had questions like, ‘Why would someone want to do that?’ ” she said.

Cormier said she feels the school has done a “fantastic” job of putting safety procedures and drills in place. “My son told me he felt safe because one of the teachers is ex-military,” she added.

Yet there is no doubt that teachers at the Norris School Monday, as in many other elementary schools, were doing a balancing act — trying to make it feel like just another Monday while being sensitive and supportive to students and parents.

“We want kids to feel like this is more of a typical day like any other day,” said Jean Kuhn, the school’s psychologist. “We want to project a sense of calm and safety, but at the same time let them know we’re available to talk about it.”

Principal William Collins said he fielded questions over the weekend from parents and teachers looking for tips on how to discuss the issue with their children. His advice to teachers was to not bring up the topic, but to be prepared for students to have questions or concerns about it.

The school serves students from kindergarten through Grade 6, so Collins told teachers to use their judgment to determine the appropriate amount of discussion and detail. He also offered links to online articles about how to discuss the topic.

“Some parents have elected not to share the information with their children, while others have shared it in great detail,” he wrote in an email to staff.

As students began arriving in sixth-grade teacher Brian Chamberlin’s classroom, he said the only past conversations he has had with students about tragic events were those about the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which they talk about on every anniversary.

“But this is more personal because it deals with an elementary school and because it’s in New England,” Chamberlin said. “I think it’s wise to let them come up with information and questions, because we don’t know what they’re aware of.”

Kuhn said she and adjustment counselor Beth Gordon planned to check in with teachers throughout the day to see if any students were having a particularly difficult time with the news.

Police presence

Students arriving at Easthampton public schools Monday morning saw something out of the ordinary: A uniformed police officer was stationed at each school. The officers were there at the end of the school day as well.

School Superintendent Nancy Follansbee said parents received a recorded voice message Sunday night alerting them to an increased police presence this week, although it is not in response to any threat.

“It’s no reflection of danger, it’s just to help our parents and students feel safe,” Follansbee said. “I’ve been out in schools all morning, and the atmosphere is pretty calm. Parents seem pleased with the response and our continued communications with them.”

Police Chief Bruce McMahon said the increased visibility at the schools will continue “for the foreseeable future” as is necessary to help parents and students cope.

“I can’t tell you how many parents waved and said thank you,” McMahon said. “I think it was just comforting to see the uniform there, and the kids enjoyed it too.”

Follansbee said she left the decision about how teachers would talk about the tragedy with students up to the principals, but recommended that teachers give a brief, age-appropriate statement about what happened, offer to talk to any student who is troubled about it, and then get on with their usual lessons.

“We want the schools to return to normal,” she said. “That’s what will help students feel the most secure and safe, and that’s what I saw today.”

Follansbee and Collins met with local law enforcement officials following the attack Friday morning to review their schools’ safety procedures. Both reported that the plans were deemed sufficient. They said they will continue to update security policies and conduct drills.

Collins added that the Norris School’s crisis preparedness team would discuss policies again after more details are released by police investigating the shootings in Newtown.

“If there is anything we can learn from this, we will adapt,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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