February 2013
January 31, 2013

Union specialists help with grief counseling, transition

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United

NYSUT and its national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, provided emotional support for educators and elementary students from Newtown, Conn., as they prepared to return to class in a new school two weeks after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

NYSUT social service specialists Ani Shahinian and Scott Hicks were on hand to help educators, parents and students cope with the transition.

Parents were allowed to walk through the new school with their children. The school was decorated with snowflakes made by students from across the country and every child was given a stuffed animal.

The adjustment was difficult for many. Teachers were either very driven in their work to get classrooms ready or "came in and broke down and cried," said Shahinian. One incident showed how children remain shaken:

A little boy dropped a stuffed unicorn he called "Rainbow." Instead of retrieving it, Hicks said, the boy only looked at it. "Rainbow fell," the boy said. "He hasn't gotten up yet."

The AFT, the national affiliate for AFT Connecticut which represents the locals at Sandy Hook, sent several health and safety specialists to Connecticut. The union arranged for David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, to speak with parents. The NEA sent a crisis team from Ohio.

— Liza Frenette