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Articles tagged with: safety


Twenty-Six Books




Eight weeks ago my first novel was published – a book about a troubled gunman opening fire in a first-grade classroom. A book based on a recurring nightmare I’d had during the many years I taught, one every teacher holds at bay during waking hours as she shoulders complete responsibility for the students she loves. And last Friday, I watched in horror as parts of that nightmare, eerily similar to the book I wrote, played out on national television. Many authors will tell you their characters “come to life” as they write. It’s true; I grew to love the 18 first graders I invented, with their distinct personalities, almost as much as the hundreds of kids I’ve taught over the years. Friday I relived the scenes “my children” saw and heard in their classroom, sobbing with the rest of the country as we watched, devastated at the staggering number of victims – far worse than any scenario I’d imagined. I could protect my fictional children; but no one, not even the heroic teachers who willingly sacrificed themselves, could save these beautiful babies from the brutal rain of bullets that ended their lives.

I’ve struggled as we all have, searching for a way to comprehend this tragedy. Writing has always been my solace in times of pain, but for days I’ve been unable to finish a sentence. As important as gun control, mental health, and school safety issues are to me, I’ve maintained my silence, for the most part, while following the heated debates on social and mass media. I’ve kept vigil in my living room, unable to turn away from the heartbreaking photos of sweet-faced children who seem so familiar to me. I had hoped my book, about a soldier with PTSD, would draw attention to the plight of those with mental illness, but I find myself  sorely challenged to feel sympathy for the troubled boy who robbed 26 families of happiness in a heinous act of violence.

I wanted to “do” something, and my feeling of connection to these children and teachers I never knew demanded my best effort. After much thought I decided what my small offering will be - to donate a book, a first grade book, to my public library, for each of the victims. Twenty-six books with each name written in one – so that they will live on in my community. I spent several days making a list of current books that teachers listed online as kids’ favorites. I read reviews and descriptions and then studied them at the bookstore to make sure the message of each was happy and hopeful.

And then a strange thing happened. As I listened to the stories about each individual, their unique personalities began to mesh perfectly with the books I’d found. When Noah Pozner’s family said he loved tacos so much that he wanted to work in a taco factory, I knew he’d love Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin. I had ordered Matthew Cordell‘s Hello, Hello just a week earlier as a gift, and when Jessica Rekos’ family described how much she wanted a horse, I got chills picturing one of the most memorable scenes - a joyous young girl riding away on a horse. Emilie Parker’s parents told of the way she had a kind word for everyone; I thought of the beautiful lessons of Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness. Grace McDonnell wanted to live on the beach and be a painter. She loved seagulls and shells and lighthouses, and she painted fish – like Walter Anderson, whose life is chronicled in The Secret World of Walter Anderson by my friend Hester Bass.  

I can’t presume to know these children, but I’ll gather as much information as I can find to help me choose the books that will tenderly preserve their memories in my community. I’ll ask for help from my elementary teacher friends, too. They’ll know which books would be appropriate for a soccer player, a future firefighter, a New York Giants fan, a budding musician, and a lovely principal who dressed as a Book Fairy to encourage her students to read. I’m happy to share the list when it’s finished if others would like to place a book with a Sandy Hook angel’s name in a school or community library.

I will write each of these names in a book: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Ana M Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, Madeline F. Hsu, Catherine V. Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Benjamin Wheeler, Allison N Wyatt, Rachel Davino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russeau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto.

And as I take them to my library for Huntsville children to enjoy, I’ll be remembering the Newtown families who are left with only memories of the precious ones they’ve lost. In the days ahead I will continue to pray that our country will have the courage to take definitive action in both increasing mental health provisions and legislating gun control measures to help keep our children safe.

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Posted in December, 2012


Safety Tips for Classrooms and School Libraries

While I was researching THIS IS NOT A DRILL, I found that there were a number of safety tips no one had ever told me while I was in the classroom. Some of them were common sense, things most people would do if an intruder entered the buiding, but some of them were less obvious. I decided to put together a list for teachers and librarians, so I'm posting it here:

Safety in the Classroom or School Library

 1.Pay attention to student comments. Alert the principal and security officers of any rumors of weapons or impending fights.

 2.Leave doors open and windows uncovered so that hall passersby can observe a developing situation inside the room, especially if you teach students who may have anger issues or could be considered volatile.

 3.Close the door if there is gunfire or threat of an intruder. Lock or barricade it with table and chairs.

 4.Instruct students to remain in the restroom or other classroom if danger erupts – or if they’re in the hall to move quickly to the nearest classroom.

 5.Remain calm. Students take their cues from you. Your ability to hide fear can set the tone.

 6.If someone has a gun, inform him in a matter-or-fact tone that you are sending the other students to a nearby teacher’s room (or library, etc.) so that you can talk with him about the problem. If he agrees or doesn’t answer, have them leave their things and move out of the room quickly and silently. If he refuses, instruct students to be seated and quiet.

 7.Sit at your desk to show you’re calm - and to place distance between yourself and the armed person. Don’t move between him and the exit. Don’t try to stop a fleeing student. Alert the principal if he leaves room. 

 8.Tell the person you will not approach or confront him. Ask him politely to point the gun away from you while you talk. Use a quiet, calm voice and non-threatening actions. Don’t take anything he says personally; respond in a professional manner. Clear your mind of any assumptions about the person and treat him as you’d like to be treated if you became unstable

 9.If you or your students become hostages, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Be empathetic. Say that you’ll help in any way you can. Just try to slow things down until professional help arrives. Statistically, most hostage situations are resolved without violence, so time is on your side.

10.If shooting erupts, drop to the floor and tell your students to do so also. When police officers arrive, listen for commands, obey instructions, and stay out of their way


(I hope you never need them, but it seemed like a good thing to think about - in the same way we plan for a fire or tornado at school, even though they are unlikely occurrences.) 



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Posted in November, 2012