Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Sparks Middle School: After a Tragedy

Magazine article National Association of School Psychologists. Communique

Sparks Middle School: After a Tragedy

Article excerpt

While the potential for a shooting on a school campus is exceedingly rare, sadly, the community of Sparks, Nevada experienced such an event on October 21,2013. A seventh grade student at Sparks Middle School brought a pistol from home and, as students gathered in the early morning, he wounded two students who were standing on the blacktop in the back of the school. He killed a teacher who tried to intervene and then committed suicide near the teacher's body a few minutes later. As the anniversary of this tragedy approaches, the district will be reminded of the events and may see a reappearance of posttrauma symptoms. Media coverage will undoubtedly focus on the recovery of the district students and staff.

In this article, we describe how the National Emergency Assistance Team (NEAT) worked with the school district following this tragedy. We particularly want to thank Joan Bohmann, Coordinator of Psychological Services, for her assistance with our visit. NEAT is part of the National Association of School Psychologists'effort to help schools, families, and communities cope with crisis situations.While every school ideally should have the capacity to respond effectively in a crisis, some traumatic events require outside assistance from professionals with specific expertise in school crisis intervention.

NEAT is composed of school psychologists who have had formal training in and direct experience involving crises that affect children and schools. All NEAT members are trained in the PREPaRE School Crisis Prevention and Intervention model. (Note: As of July 1,2014, the NEAT and PREPaRE workgroups have been joined under the newly formed National School Safety and Crisis Response Committee.) Our role varies according to the needs of each situation, and we can provide phone and e-mail consultation with crisis team members in the aftermath of a crisis; direct assistance to school crisis teams and communities; and informational handouts for schools to use with students, staff, and families.


On the day of the shooting, we contacted the Nevada NASP delegate and Nevada state association president, and early that afternoon we talked with Joan Bohmann, coordinator of psychological services in Washoe County School District. Within hours we had an official invitation from Superintendent Pedro Martinez.

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, the district staff took many actions to support the students, staff members, and parents. They cancelled school for the remainder of the week and offered counseling support through their community resources. They informally opened the campus with support for staff and students on Thursday, prior to the official start of school the following Monday; Friday was a preplanned school holiday. They requested our presence the following Monday for the first day of the reopening of school, so we arrived Sunday, visited the school, and met with school district personnel including Joan Bohmann and Katherine Loudon, the director of counseling, equity, and diversity.


We determined that two team members who were experienced with school shootings (Cathy Kennedy-Paine and Ted Feinberg) would be deployed to provide the level of support the district was requesting. The entire community was affected by this event, and there existed the potential for serious traumatic impact on the 700 students and 60 teachers and staff members because of several factors:

* Students and staff members witnessed the violent death of a popular teacher/coach.

* The student shooter committed suicide within view of students and staff.

* The evacuation of the middle school students to the elementary school resulted in students and staff members witnessing bodies lying on the blacktop.

* The impact of the deaths was widely felt at the nearby elementary school where the deceased student attended, as well as other middle and high schools.

During our 3-day visit, our goal was to help leaders of the school community look ahead and to provide the staff with strategies to facilitate the long-term recovery of the district. …

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