In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, educators across the country are faced with helping students deal with the tragedy that touched two American cities and so many lives.
Teachers found themselves grasping for words to reassure students that they were not in danger and to explain the surreal attacks in New York City and in Washington, where hijacked jetliners plowed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.
For resources on how to discuss the terrorist attacks with students, many educators are turning to the internet.
“There are going to be a lot of angry kids, and we need to help them understand that it’s OK to experience the anger, but not to act it out,” said Susan Gorin, executive director of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). “As a country, we’ve never experienced this.”
The NASP has posted a section to its web site called “Helping Children Cope with Tuesday’s Act of Terrorism.” The site recommends that schools have a plan for the first few days back at school and that teachers give students information directly rather than hearing it through announcements.
Gorin and others suggested that teachers explain what happened as clearly as possible, providing only those details that seem appropriate to children at each age. They should also give students ample opportunity to ask questionssometimes the same questions, over and over again.
In addition, they suggest schools monitor or restrict viewing of the horrendous event and allow class time for age-appropriate classroom discussion and activities.
Students are “trying to make sense out of a senseless situation,” said Danny Mize, executive director of the Kids’ Place, a support center for grieving children and families that grew out of the 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.
The Kids’ Place web site includes helpful resources for dealing with grief in children. For example, many experts say schools should give students the chance to write or draw pictures about their feelings, whether on large message murals hung in a hallway or on individual pieces of paper.
“We shouldn’t mask our feelings from the kids,” Mize said. “If we’re sad and crying, don’t go off to a bedroom and then put on a brave face for the kids. We need them to know that we’ve been affected by it, too.”
Gorin said schools can help children by sending letters and pictures to victims’ families. And, she said, teachers should try to get students back to their normal schedules as soon as possible.
Adults also should limit exposure to TV images of the attacks, Mize said. “We need to be aware that while we’re getting all of those details, the kids are, too,” he said.
Several other web sites have devoted sections to helping educators address this horrific event in their classrooms.
CNNfyi.com features questions for sparking classroom discussions about the terrorist attacks. An electronic eMail forum on Yahoo! has been established so educators can discuss this event with each other.
JewzNewz.com offers advice on talking with children about the attacks, curriculum resources to help educators teach about terrorism, and safety information in case of future attacks.
“Confusion is rampant, leading many to feel powerless and scared, especially children who have never lived through an event of this magnitude,” said Martin Kaminer, chairman of Jewish Family & Life, the producer of the site. “JewzNewz.com is offering unique and immediate resources that will help families come to grips with the catastrophe.”
The National Institute of Mental Health has a 10-page fact sheet titled “Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters.”
Also, the National Education Association web site offers a comprehensive Crisis Communication guide. Schools can find a variety of resources and tools to distribute to teachers, parents, school employees, and the media to help monitor the health needs of children during times of crisis.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has posted a web page called “Helping Children Understand the Terrorist Attacks.” ED also said it would provide millions of dollars in Project SERV grants, as well as assistance in counseling and support services, to school systems directly impacted by the attacks in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Project SERV grants are intended to provide assistance to local school districts that have experienced a traumatic event.
Another site that may provide useful information about the events and players involved in the Sept. 11 tragedy is the award-winning How Stuff Works web site. The site has added a number of entries pertaining to the attack and has pointed to previously-existing portions of the site that may shed light on some of the tragedy’s more technical issues.
For instance, the new entry “How Terrorism Works” provides an overview of both domestic and international terrorism, and “How Osama Bin Laden Works” helps readers understand the background and motivations of the terrorist most suspected of masterminding the hijackings.
Other articles of interest include “How Black Boxes Work,” “How Skyscrapers Work,” “How NATO Works,” “How Cell Phones Work,” and “How Airport Security Works.”
Though the site’s creator, Marshall Brain, says the style of some of the older entries might not fit the somber mood of the nation at this time, the articles nonetheless are highly useful for kids and teachers interested in getting background on a variety of issues that will become important as students try to understand the attack.
School Psychologists Online
Children and Responding to National Disaster: Information for Teachers
Helping Children Cope with Tuesday’s Act of Terrorism
Yahoo Chat Room for Educators
“Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters”
National Education Association’s Crisis Communication guide
ED’s “Helping Children Understand the Terrorist Attacks”
How Terrorism Works
How Osama Bin Laden Works