As America remembers September 11 in exhaustive detail, with every major news outlet launching extensive first-year anniversary coverage and more than 69,000 web sites already offering memorials, school leaders may wonder what, if anything, they should add to the national catharsis.
While the answer to that question is as individual as each student, family, school, and community, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) provides some of the web’s best resources on this sensitive subject. Filled with helpful tips and suggestions for parents, educators, and the media, the site offers well-researched content written by highly skilled counselors with first-hand experiences in dealing with deeply traumatic events.
While other web sites and the media tend to focus on trauma and replay the horrific scenes of death and destruction, NASP offers practical strategies for ensuring that school-based activities inspire healing rather than fear.
To make things even easier, NASP is giving educators free access to its materials, as long as the organization is credited appropriately. Hotlinks to the site (www.nasponline.org) also are encouraged.
Here are some of NASP’s suggestions, along with a few of my own:
• Get parents, staff, and the community involved in deciding whether school-based memorials are appropriate, and to plan any activitiesall of which should be optional. While students who were directly impacted by the events may benefit from a memorial, others may not. “Providing activity for students who do not need it may serve to increase their threat perceptions,” NASP warns.
• Share any plans you develop on your web site. Consider hosting a pop-up survey to gauge parent and community support or desire for Sept. 11 memorials, tributes, or activities. You might also want to add a link to your school or district safety plan on your web site’s front page, as the anniversary is likely to create new concerns about school security and preparedness.
• Work with district administrators to develop a news release or statement outlining how your school system is responding to the upcoming anniversary, and post the release and any other policies or guidelines on your district’s home page. Use school pages to highlight any grade or classroom-specific activities.
• Turn off the television set and monitor web surfing in the classroom, and let parents decide what they want their children to watch or read. Most of the coverage offered by CNN and other television news outlets and web sites isn’t going to be appropriate for elementary and middle school students.
• When it comes to news and web coverage, exercise caution even with high school students: Research has shown that replaying the horror simply increases the level of trauma for many young people and does little to stimulate healing or understanding. An in-depth class discussion or optional writing activity during one class period might be more constructive for this age group. For younger children, drawing or some other simple, hands-on project designed to help them express their feelings is going to be more meaningful than writing or a class discussion.
• Plan ahead. While a simple, solemn gesture or a special activity during one class period may be an appropriate way to mark the Sept. 11 anniversary, talking about the event non-stop throughout the day isn’t a good use of instructional time.
• Keep your finger on the pulse of your school and your community, and respond quickly and assertively to any signs of intolerance, bullying, or discrimination. Keep in mind that while “sticks and stones may break bones,” words can really hurt. Recognize that community incidents and neighborhood hate crimes, while out of your control, still will have an impact on your students and your school. After the Columbine tragedy, many schools across the nation adopted “zero tolerance” policies regarding bullying. Once ignored as a normal part of childhood, most experts now agree that verbal and emotional hostility, including chronic teasing and bullying, actually open the door to violence. For help in bully-proofing your school, see the NASP web site.
• Give students a chance to debrief after any memorials or activities, and have a plan in place to deal with any emotional outbursts or behavioral concerns. Even something as simple as a brief, school-wide moment of silence can have a profound impact emotionally. Some students will need a safe haven to share their feelings and process their emotions; others will be ready to move on. Teachers, support staff, and counselors may need a safe place to vent as well.
• Keep the school day as normal as possible. After a traumatic event, a “return to normalcy” can aid healing. While it’s important to acknowledge Sept. 11, memorials shouldn’t interfere with learning or have a negative impact on your school climate.
• Provide a link to the NASP web site and other credible resources for parents and students. Give parents tips and strategies for discussing the Sept. 11 anniversary with their children, and alert them to warning signs such as sleep disturbances, excessive clinging, decreased activity, preoccupation with the disaster, or a persistent fear of an impending catastrophe.
• Take care of the caregivers. It’s easy for educators to forget the anniversary of this national tragedy will impact them as well. Set time aside at your staff meeting to discuss your plans and expectations for Sept. 11, and let your teachers and other employees share their feelings, ideas, and concerns.
• Model the behavior you want to see in your students and staff, and remind teachers and parents that children will take their cues from them.
One year ago, we witnessed the most devastating attack on our shores since Pearl Harbor. As America’s schoolchildren remember Sept. 11, let’s help them see not just the tragedy and the pain of the past 12 months, but the hope and resiliency of the future. Let’s show our children our nation at its very best: strong, proud, united, caring, democraticand free.
Resources The National Association of School Psychologists web site includes several documents to help parents and educators commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, including “Guidelines for Responsible Media Coverage,” “One Year Later: Remembering September 11, 2001Suggestions for Educators and Other Caregivers …,” and “Memorial Activities at School: A List of ‘Do’s’ and ‘Don’ts.'” http://www.nasponline.org
AskERIC offers lesson plans and information for teachers, counselors, and parents on a variety of education topics. See “Teaching Students About Terror and Related Resources.” http://www.askeric.org
Resources from the National School Public Relations Association include “Post September 11th: A Look at Communication, Leadership, and Caregiving” (NSPRA Seminar, PR Tape #282, $22) and “Script for a Moment of Silence.” http://www.nspra.org The New York City 9/11 Services Center publishes a list of legitimate charities and tribute funds. The United States Department of Justice is investigating many so-called 9-11 memorials and tribute funds for fraud; please research charities carefully before encouraging student gifts or projects. http://home.nyc.gov
Comstock Images offers free flag images you can post on your web site or electronic publications. http://www.comstock.com/GO/USFlags
The September 12th Initiative, from ePALS Classroom Exchange, fosters dialogue via eMail about Sept. 11 among teens from various backgrounds and cultures. http://www.epals.com/projects/ studentwritersguild