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Shining a Light in the Wake of Tragedy: Schools' Role

Once again, our country finds itself reeling from an unspeakably violent tragedy.

When suspected gunman Stephan Paddock opened fire on a group of country music concertgoers from a room in the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas Sunday night, at least 58 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

As details continue to emerge about what happened and authorities seek a motive for the attack—the second at a large concert this year—students will likely have questions. Some might be upset or seek advice about what they have seen or heard in news reports or in their schools. For those whose loved ones or family members were affected (people from all over the country and around the world attended the Las Vegas concert), support and counseling are critical. Others might fear for their own safety.

As the country begins the difficult process of healing and coming together, our schools will play a role in facilitating deeply personal discussions, providing support, and helping students and their families cope.

Here are a few steps your schools can take to help:

  • Make counselors available

Districts often make school and grief counselors available following a local tragedy. But students might be just as emotionally fragile following a national tragedy, and could benefit from the additional support.

  • Organize group discussions

Whether in class or during a voluntary after-school meeting, give students the opportunity to talk—with each other, with teachers, and with school leaders. Offer them a safe space where they can discuss their thoughts and feelings about the attack.

  • Engage parents

Parents’ influence on their children doesn’t stop at the classroom door. They’re often the key to helping their kids get through periods of emotional stress. Reach out to parents, invite their questions, and offer resources on how they can become better listeners for their children during times of tragedy and confusion.

  • Respect student privacy

Many students will open up about their feelings. Others, especially if they were personally affected, might be reluctant. But they still need support. Provide opportunities for students share their thoughts anonymously, either via closed-door counseling sessions, anonymous phone calls, or confidential online communication.

  • Facilitate online discussions

Use your social media channels to host discussions about the tragedy. Find out what students and parents are feeling, and provide guidance on how to move forward. Monitor these channels closely and look for teachable moments.

  • Turn tragedy into action

Empower students by creating projects to support the victims. Creating art projects, performing community service, or organizing fundraisers are all ways students can help —and heal—after a tragedy.

Whatever you choose to do, you can make your schools places of hope for students who don’t know where to turn. And if you can help even one student work through his or her emotions in a positive way, your school community will be better for it.

How are you supporting your students in the wake of Las Vegas attack? Tell us in the comments.