Reaching out to students

Schools use different methods used to help children cope

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— The normally bustling front entrance of Steamboat Springs High School seemed eerily quiet as students sat watching the breaking news coverage of Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"There is nothing to do but wonder and watch," Jessica Toothaker said as she sat watching in her first period leadership class.

"It's like nothing I have ever been alive for. Columbine is the only thing I can relate it to," said Abby Fritz, who sat beside Toothaker. "Then you didn't know what was happening in school.

"Now, you don't know what is happening everywhere."

At another table not far away, a group of students sat talking about the possibility of war.

"It's not cool. I don't want to go to war," Brook Hicks said. "George Bush, the military, the U.S. will never really back down."

These students were just a few of the many students who spent their early morning classes watching television in classrooms throughout the middle and high schools.

As the details of the terrorist attacks were unfolding, the high school gathered its crisis team to determine how to cope with the event.

High School Principal David Schmid said the high school decided that all teachers should set aside their first period classes to watch the breaking news and then resume their regular schedules. The middle school followed a similar pattern, watching news in early morning classes then returning to normalcy.

Because of the students' young ages, Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools did not let students listen to news or radio broadcasts.

The school district decided to cancel open houses that had been scheduled Tuesday to allow students to discuss the day's events with their parents, Superintendent Cyndy Simms said.

The open house for Soda Creek's kindergarten, first and second graders was rescheduled for 6 p.m. next Tuesday. The high school's open house has been rescheduled for 6:30 p.m. next Tuesday.

The open houses scheduled for today at Soda Creek for third, fourth and fifth graders and for all of Strawberry Park grades have not been canceled.

"We encourage for any age of students that parents try to be at home to talk about the events as they occur," Simms said.

Students like those in Kandise Gilbertson's 10th-grade American History class talked about the events throughout the day. Gilbertson had her students watch the news, write about it in their journals and have discussions.

Gilbertson said such national tragedies can be learning experiences for students many of whom were too young to comprehend the impact of events like the Gulf War.

Live, non-stop television coverage also has an impact, Gilbertson said.

"They are able to see what is going on ... It is changing how history takes place," Gilbertson said. "Essentially, everyone can be an eyewitness."

Students were concerned about those they know who could be directly effected by the terrorist attack. Gilbertson said 15 out of the 45 kids in her class had connections to people in the New York and Washington D.C. areas.

School counselors and psychologists were made available to students Tuesday.

But, school psychologist Ray Koch said Tuesday's attack was unlike the typical school crisis that usually deals with a loss of people well-known in the school system.

"Its the fear of the unknown," said Koch, a 28-year veteran. "There may be more anxiety provoked than a tragedy right here because they don't know what is happening."

He and other staff did what they could to console students who were confused and saddened by the events.

'We're walking around with each teacher assessing what is going on and making students understand that everything is as normal as possible," he said. "(We try to) help students realize that they are safe."

To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail at cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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