SPHS Principal Offers Support in Tragic Times | Helping Students Cope in Wake of School Shootings

South Pasadena High School Principal Janet Anderson received an informational sheet with tips for how teachers and parents can help students understand the issues and their feelings. Counselors and administrators are available at the school to assist students through the trauma, grief and suffering following the Saugus High School shootings that occurred last month

PHOTO: Eric Fabbro | SouthPasadenan.com News | South Pasadena High School Principal, Janet Anderson, at a Board of Education meeting

Ask for help.

The message sounds simplistic, but local school officials insist administrators and counselors are available, ready to answer questions from students trying to cope with violent situations like the one that took place a month ago at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita.

Trauma, grief, and suffering beyond the initial tragedy are expected – even weeks after the fact – according to the website HealthAffairs.org following mass casualty incidents that can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

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Within days of the one-year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018 when a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle killing 17 at the Parkland, Florida campus, two students died by suicide.

Handling feelings of distress following a shooting and having “those conversations with young people can be particularly challenging,” noted South Pasadena High Principal Janet Anderson in a note to parents following the Saugus incident.

According to the American Psychological Association, “You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen. There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions. Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience — the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity — in the days and weeks ahead.”

A massive show of support was demonstrated following the tragedy as a large gathering turned out for an emotional vigil at Central Park in Santa Clarita less than a mile away from Saugus High School where two students were killed by a lone gunman.

Candles, flowers, teddy bears and notes, many reading “Saugus Strong,” were displayed remembering those who died. Health professionals say it’s part of the healing process to reflect on the lives of Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, the two victims in the Saugus High shooting.

After the distressing incident, reports of mass violence dominated the news. “Although people are resilient and often bounce back after difficult times, these events nearly always interrupt our sense of order and safety,” read a portion of the American Counseling Association website addressing the issue on how to cope in the aftermath of a shooting. “The impact often extends to individuals who live far outside of the affected area with no personal connections to the event. This is especially true when the event is human-caused with the intent of harming others.”

In her note to parents following the Saugus shooting, Principal Anderson explained that she received an informational sheet with tips for how teachers and parents can help students understand the issues and their feelings. “Our teachers have received the same informational page,” she wrote in her message. “Please also remind your children that they can see a counselor, administrator, or any person they designate as someone with whom they can connect here at school.”

In a written statement, South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz stressed that schools in the district conduct annual active shooter training for students and staff and work closely with the South Pasadena Police Department throughout the year on campus safety.

“South Pasadena Unified School District extends our deepest condolences to the families and school community who have been impacted by this tragic incident,” read the statement from Yantz.

The following are recommendations from the American School Counselor Association to assist students after a shooting:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school.
  • Limit exposure to television and the news.
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle.
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns.
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things.
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress.
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships.