On Wednesday, families coming to tour the building during an open house were welcomed with signs along the road offering such messages as, “Welcome. You are in our prayers.”
In the building, students are also being welcomed with painted handprints from Connecticut schoolchildren and snowflakes made by students from around the country, Mr. Excell-Bailey says.
“We want to get back to teaching and learning,” said Newtown superintendent Janet Robinson. “We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there.”
Grief counselors and police are on hand to reassure both staff and students.
A parent or guardian is also welcome to stay with or nearby a child on the first days if needed, said interim principal Donna Page in a note on the school district’s website.
If parents are apprehensive about sending their child back to school, the best thing they can do is check in regularly with a caring friend or family member to share their feelings, Professor Ford says. “When they have that sense of being cared for, they are much more confident and able to send their kids off to school with message of, ‘This is a good thing, and any way I can help you, I will.’ ”
When Dr. Schonfeld of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement met with teachers a few days after the shooting, he recommended some steps to plan for students to return to school. For one, he said, adjust academic expectations to account for the fact that both students and teachers may have difficulty fully concentrating. Make a safe environment for kids to say if they had trouble with homework because they had nightmares, for instance, and “academic growth will come later.”
“The goal is not for teachers to conduct therapy, but to be supportive,” Schonfeld says.
Often what’s most helpful for children, says Ford, is if teachers “provide the usual structure for learning and creative arts that will allow kids to express their questions.”
The school district can support staff by having substitute teachers on hand to step in if a teacher needs a break to speak with a counselor or just regain composure, Schonfeld suggests.