Symposium of Hope: Recovery and Resiliency after the Sandy Hook Tragedy

By Zenere, Frank J. | National Association of School Psychologists. Communique, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Symposium of Hope: Recovery and Resiliency after the Sandy Hook Tragedy


Zenere, Frank J., National Association of School Psychologists. Communique


On February 27 and 28, 2013, The Symposium of Hope: Recovery and Resilience after the Sandy Hook Tragedy, was held in Danbury, Connecticut. The event was hosted by the United Way of Western Connecticut and Western Connecticut State University. I was honored to be an invited panelist at the function. Other panelists included Frank DeAngelis, principal of Columbine High School; Mary Fetchet, founding director ofVoices of September 11th; Donna Gaffhey, adviser, Project Rebirth; Bill Keegan of H.E.A.R.T. 9/11; Chaplain Greg Young, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Milwaukee Division and Germantown Police Department; Dr. Jamie M. Howard, clinical psychologist and director of the Stress and Resilience Program at the ChUd Mind institute; and Dr Curt Drennen, Colorado Department of PubHe Health and Environment, Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response. Additional mini-sessions were held for educators, mental health professionals, eommunityleaders.nrstresponders.and funding sources.

Thegoalof the symposium was to offer the caregivers and residents of Newtown and surrounding communities the opportunityto hear from individuals around the eountrywhohavebeeninvolvedintheresponse to or recovery from tragedies. By design, the speakers were asked to discuss lessons learnedfrom their involvementin critical incidents and disasters that could promote resilience and recovery in Newtown as it moves forward.

On the evening of February 27th, a community forum was held and live-streamed over the Internet. The forum was attended by individuals connected to the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy including faculty members and staff, first responders, mental health professionals, surviving family members, and other residents of the community. Panelists were asked to make 15-minute presentations followed by questions from the audience. The symposium, held on February 28th, was attended by local caregivers and was closed to the media. Below is the text of my presentation.

We gather here today less than 3 months since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. So much has changed since that day in December. Lives have been lost, families have been permanently altered, and the face of a community has been changed forever. Further, with the loss of precious children, we suffer not only the loss of what was, but what could have been. Recovery from a tragic event, whether it be a person or a community, is not a sprint, it is a marathon; it is not a destination, it is a journey, it is not linear, but consists of emotional peaks and valleys of despair. Likewise, recovery cannot be placed on a calendar, as each individual and community follows its own unique path moving forward.

Betsy Thompson, Student Services Director of Jefferson County Schools, made the following comment regarding the handling of the Columbine High School tragedy: "It was an exhausting process, and yet the power of the people to come together and support one another in the deepest, dreariest days is absolutely incredible. The resiliency of the human spirit is second to none." If tragedy brings us into darkness, it is resiliency that brings us into the light. Resilient individuals and communities may experience temporary and sporadic difficulties following a tragedy, but generally exhibit stable and healthy functioning. Resiliency is actually quite common.

In March 2005, 1 led a team of school psychologists from the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Emergency Assistance Team, in responding to the tragic shootings at Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minnesota. Long after the national media had left the scene of the school community, a series of negative cascading events continued to impact survivors.

* The superintendent took a 3-week leave of absence as a result of emotional distress.

* The school's principal suffered a heart attack 1 month after the tragedy.

* There was an increase in depression among students and staff. …

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