The Month Ahead

As we approach the anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there are as many questions and anxieties today as there were a year ago.  It is hard not to be a bit tired and drained, diverting thought and energy from the tasks of daily life to events both known and unknown.  It is also hard not to be a bit energized and hopeful after seeing the unique and powerful way that a community came together.

Time helps the pain subside but it also diminishes our memories of the positive things that happen each day.  Take this moment to re-envision the future that you wish to see, reflect on the amazing demonstrations of hope and compassion that our staff, students, and families have made this past year.  Through tolerance, kindness, respect, and the initial assumption of positive intentions, we have helped each other, in many small steps, to get to a better place.

Isolation is still the enemy.  Isolation is the engine of all of the destructive consequences of the pain that we continue to feel.  Isolation feeds fear and anger.  But you can fight isolation.  The response that is healthy and helpful is to weave some recognition of a good quality into every conversation with friends, colleagues, and loved ones.  It helps to create a sense of safety and value that supports long-term personal and organizational health.  Through this sharing you will see the AMAZING that I continue to see among us.

We continue to be committed to creating an environment that best supports an accelerated healing process and allows students, staff, and families to take the next steps toward a healthy future.  Resources continue to be available for students, staff, and families. If you have taken advantage of them in the past, we encourage you to continue to do so.  If you thought that you might but have been reluctant to take advantage of them, we encourage you to shed your reluctance and reach out.

On December 13, 2013, the high school is planning to start the day by congregating in the gym for a brief moment of silence and a celebration of the tremendous strength and resilience that has been demonstrated over the past year.  We are planning on closing the day with a brief opportunity for students and teachers to connect, should they wish to do so.

Our collective strength and resilience will continue to serve as an example to the rest of the world.

The New Normal

As I speak with students, teachers, clinicians, and community members, the expression that I hear more and more often is “the new normal.”

I liked “the old normal.”  Yet, in the span of ten minutes, each and every one of us was thrown into disequilibrium, striving desperately to find some balance and comfort in a sea of unfathomable grief.  And now, as we try to rebuild, reestablish, and reconnect, there is the realization that there is no such thing as “normal.”

The challenge for each of us is in dealing with the ambiguity and uncertainty that comes with “the new normal.”  Around each corner is a new challenge; a challenge that we cannot anticipate.  Things that we thought would always be true are no longer true.  We must suspend our familiar assumptions and embrace opportunities to shape “the new normal.”  Find joy in the things that you used to take for granted. Find wonder in the things that you see every day.  Set examples of what you wish to be obvious to others in your “new normal.” Choose to see opportunities in the uncertainty.  What may have been true before may be very different in this new context.

One thing that has not changed is how much our staff cares about students.  I have received hundreds of emails and notes from students, parents, and grandparents extolling the compassion, support, and understanding of the staff as we deal with this tragedy.  The circumstances may have shined a light on these particular qualities, but I can assure you that we have always cared.  And we will continue to do so.

Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world.

Healing

I hope that you have all been able to find some joy over the break.  Hope and determination will light the way to our bright and noble future – a future that you must envision and take small steps toward each day.  I have made a commitment that our students and staff will be recognized for our recovery and not for the tragedy.  Together, we can do this.

We will open school at the regular time on Wednesday, January 2, 2013 (it will be an F-Day).  There will be continued professional counseling support from our staff and clinicians from the State of Connecticut.  Students seeking counseling support should access resources through the School Counseling Office.  Counselors will continue to monitor common areas to provide additional support.  We will be working hard to ensure an appropriate and smooth transition from state and national support to local support.  There will also be additional law enforcement support and we will continue to restrict media access to the campus.

As we move forward from this tragedy, we will find that people are in very different places in the grieving process.  Perhaps not knowing where people are in the process, what they will say, or how they will react to what is said is a considerable source of anxiety for you.  I am sure that it is for many people.  We are committed to creating an environment that best supports an accelerated healing process and allows students and staff to take the next steps toward a healthy future.  The truth is, though, that we are not exactly sure what that process looks like.  We are only certain that it will require tolerance, kindness, respect, compassion, and the initial assumption of positive intentions. We all must be considerate and supportive of the differences in how people grieve.

Focusing on growth, connection, and responsibility to others is a positive, healthy way to deal with tragedy.  You can support long term personal and organizational health by incorporating recognition of good qualities and individual strengths into conversations with friends, colleagues, and loved ones.

Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world.

The Break

If this week is any indication of the change that our students are going to make in the world, we do indeed have a bright and noble future.  I realize that this is just the beginning of our healing and that there will be good days and bad days ahead, but our students continue to amaze me with their compassion, energy, hope, and determination.

This break is a good thing.  We will send out more information on activities and supports that will be available during the week.  If you have any questions or concerns (or just need to share), you can always contact me [email: dumaisc@newtown.k12.ct.us, twitter: @charlesdumais].  I, too, am going to try to take a break, but I will be close by.

Please reach out to somebody this week.  Take the opportunity to make a new friend.  Check on your neighbor.  Call a colleague.  Do something that makes you feel good about yourself.  Do something that makes somebody else feel good about themself. By focusing on the strengths that you see in yourself and in others, you will find that there is a healthy way to deal with tragedy that involves growth, connection, and responsibility to others.

I may take a day or two off from writing.  That does not mean I will not be thinking about you.  I most certainly will.  Why don’t you write to me?  Describe your vision of a bright and noble future.  I would love to read it (and it might help you to write it).

Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world. Be strong, Newtown.

Highly Resolve

We are taking school (and life) one day at a time.  As much as I would like to be able to say that each day will get easier, that is certainly not the case.  What we have witnessed is incomprehensible and the only certainty in our recovery is that we will do it together.

While we were all tired yesterday, we are exhausted today. Some came to school hoping that we would be able to just process our feelings while others came to school hoping for structure (and perhaps distraction).  Every teacher in every classroom tried hard to figure out what would be best for the students with them.

Tomorrow will be a shortened E-day (early dismissal; we will have no bells).  We will observe a moment of silence at 9:30.

Counseling staff will continue to be available for students, staff, and parents throughout the day.  Support centers have been set up in the side gym (students), F-wing offices (teachers), and B141 (parents).  Counselors will also be monitoring classrooms and common areas to provide additional support.

Uniformed police officers will continue to patrol the interior of the building and a police cruiser will monitor traffic entering the campus.  Media will not be allowed on campus.

Our students are AMAZING. Our faculty is AMAZING. Our staff is AMAZING.  The support that each has shown for the other brings me to tears as much as the pain of this horrific event.  To everybody who has reached out to help us in this time of need, we thank you.

Yesterday, I spoke of envisioning the future.  If you have not done so already, please take a moment now to think about what you wish the future to look like.  We had no control over this senseless, cruel, horrific act, but we do have absolute control over our response to it.  We must have the courage to envision a future that is noble and bright.

Isolation is the enemy.  Isolation is the engine of all of the destructive consequences of the pain that we are feeling.  Isolation feeds fear and anger.  But you can fight isolation.  The response that is healthy and helpful is to weave some recognition of a good quality into every conversation with friends, colleagues, and loved ones.  It helps to create a sense of safety and value that supports long-term personal and organizational health.  Through this sharing you will see the AMAZING that I see among us.

In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln closed with “that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom . . .”  To begin to make the future that you envision closer to a reality, we all need to “highly resolve” to do something so that the children and adults of Sandy Hook Elementary did not die in vain. I will be resolving to perform three acts of kindness over the holiday break on their behalf.  I ask you to do the same (you should write them down now).

I am sure that one of the thoughts that crossed your mind this week was “Will people always associate me with this horrific event when they find out I am from (or work in) Newtown?”  We can choose a future now that will bring us recognition as a community that took a terrible tragedy and turned it into a movement for a better world.

Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world. Be strong, Newtown.