The Sandy Hook massacre was the second deadliest school shooting in United States history, and it speaks of the evil inflicted upon its victims. The hole can be felt in our universal hearts, and their beats are dominated by sympathy, empathy, sadness, fear, trauma, confusion, and anger, echoing far beyond the once-peaceful Connecticut town. Generations were torn apart by a mentally deranged American terrorist.
Our schools were trusted as secure environments to build enriching foundations. Now our elected officials, education systems, and citizens need to rebuild trust, and implement increased safety measures throughout schools, communicate with our children about mental health early on, and carry out greater psychological evaluations and treatments. Politics need to be placed aside, and what is morally correct for the people needs to be fulfilled proactively.
“Hopefully change will emerge with assistance for the mentally ill and stricter gun control laws,” said Laura Isaia-Luff, a guidance counselor at Russell Sage JHS 190 in Forest Hills. “There should be uniform security measures, and possibly buzzer systems to access all schools.”
Isaia-Luff said to help prepare for emergencies, the school has a Building Response Team and addresses prevention, anger management, and bullying.
On December 21, 6th graders at the school participated in a project to help the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School have a “Winter Wonderland” in their new school.
“They designed snowflakes, snow people, penguins, and a paper chain bearing words and messages of comfort and inspiration to send to the school,” said parent coordinator Judy Hurwitz.
Lori Stahl-Van Brackle, computer talent teacher and Halsey Bulldog news editor at Halsey JHS 157, held sessions with her student staff and focused on the bravery of the principal and teachers who died protecting their students. She also assured her students they were safe at Halsey.
Before the December 14th tragedy, Halsey implemented a new safety protocol. Stahl-Van Brackle has since led discussions about having a hard lockdown, keeping students away from windows and doors, and keeping up the shades in case of a hostage situation where the SWAT team needs to take control.
In class, she discussed gun control and examined the language of the Second Amendment.
“In 1791, weapons like those used at Sandy Hook were inconceivable,” she said. “I believe, and many of my students agreed, that if we stick to the letter of the amendment, then citizens have the right to bear arms that were available during the 1790s and nothing that was developed since.
“If we keep arms to single-shot weapons available for those who want to have protection or hunt, then such tragedies can be avoided,” she added.
Stahl-Van Brackle said the school plans to remember the victims of Sand Hook.
“We are planning a memorial for our paper, and I'm looking into having a virtual candle that students can light in honor of the victims,” she said.
Rego Park resident and teacher Eric Muehlbauer shared his thoughts on gun control.
“No person has any conceivable need for an assault weapon or multiple weapons, or a need to conceal any weapons if they have permits,” he said. “It won't do a lot, but better gun control will help slow the acquisition of guns, and any delay increases the chances for intervention. We are fortunate in Rego Park and Forest Hills not to be dealing with the ‘gun culture’ that is ubiquitous outside of urban areas.”
Brooklyn resident Aimee Mara Zehner, a guidance counselor at East Brooklyn Community High School, emphasized a need to focus on how we address mental illness and disorders, and believes in free mental healthcare.
“Banning guns or creating stricter gun laws, such as more thorough background checks, will not likely result in decreasing people's access to guns,” she said. “Adam Lanza used his mother's gun. What it had to do with was his mental instability, lack of morals, and a motive to kill innocent people.
“The common American doesn’t need to have entirely deadly assault/automatic weapons,” Zehner added, “but I believe we have a constitutional right to bear arms for defense.”
Zehner embraces proactive preparedness.
“If all students, staff, and visitors were required to pass through metal detectors, there would likely be fewer incidents,” she said. “All staff should be aware of and practice drills for their school's safety procedures, and be informed of alert notifications and protocols in various situations, such as intruder alerts, lockdown versus shelter-in, evacuations, bomb threats, and natural disasters.”
Betty Steinman is a holistic psychotherapist and life coach who uses the Emotional Freedom Technique with clients, which involves gentle tapping to clear painful emotions and greatly reduce recovery time from trauma.
Steinman feels a three-pronged approach is necessary in preventing future school shootings.
“The easy purchase of guns and assault weapons needs to be greatly modified,” she said. “Secondly, violence displayed in video games, movies, and television is a huge cultural factor. Shooting others is viewed every day without a blink, and is even rewarded in video games. Our kids and teens are surrounded by it, but those who have emotional problems may be more susceptible to this influence.”
Thirdly, Steinman recommended that local and widespread communities support each other.
“With our own neighborhood scar of the Kitty Genovese incident, we can have a heightened awareness to take action by contacting community representatives to continue funding and increase support for mental health and treatment,” she said. This could be accomplished by establishing parenting groups and a curriculum featuring support and socialization groups early on.
“Troubled kids could be spotted and helped before isolation and ideas of violence set in, so let’s make mental health a part of education,” Steinman said.
Steinman shared some words of wisdom for families and friends of those who perished, based upon her occupational expertise.
“Each person is going to process in their own way, according to their strengths and limitations,” she said. “Therefore, provide support along with their strengths and ask what they need, but mostly listen and allow the grieving person space to feel.
“Shock usually lasts six weeks,” she added, “but mourning continues and improves if all feelings are accepted.”