The kids who attend Sandy Hook Elementary won’t go back to school until some time in January, and even then they will be attending nearby Chalk Hill, a school that’s been closed for some time but is hurriedly being renovated. Sandy Hook Elementary, a crime scene that will take months to investigate, will remain closed indefinitely.
But even after that grisly work is done, should students ever go back there? Columbine and sites of many other school shootings have gone on to open their doors again, often with significant renovation, rendering them all but unrecognizeable. But this event is unique in that the victims and survivors are so young. Could 6-year-olds have the emotional maturity to return to the scene of such a horrific experience and actually focus on learning?
Practical concerns, like families wanting to live close to school, may make a return to Sandy Hook inevitable. And Glenn Saxe, M.D., the Arnold Simon Professor and chair of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Child Study Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City says going back to school will be tough, wherever it is.
“Not only the building itself, but the school context in general is going to remind children of the traumatic experience," Dr Saxe tells Parenting. "Even the same teacher – the same teacher teaching them math when they heard the gunfire, for instance – can evoke traumatic memories. In the same building, the reminders are more intense. It’s still possible [to go back] but it requires thoughtfulness, attunement and the right timing.”
Dr Saxe is quick to add, however, that getting back into a school routine is actually helpful in healing. “Their time needs to be occupied in a good way, and school opening again signals to them that things are getting back on track,” he says.
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