"In NKSD, counselors respond to tragedy"
June 10, 2008 · Updated 5:56 PM
"POULSBO - Many aid crews went into action after this week's terrorist attacks on the eastern seaboard. Among those aiding people in pain were the counselors and psychologists in the North Kitsap School District. When students arrived at schools in the district Tuesday morning, the world had become a different, more frightening place. Kids and adults were assisted in dealing with that reality by the district's counselors. Counselors across the district advised teachers, parents and staff to be open and willing to talk about the terrorist attack, yet to continue with a normal, stable routine. So, while some classes watched TV news or talked about the attack, school days continued as normally as possible. We expected more anxiety on day two, explained Vinland's Priscilla Preus. But the kids settled down, because it was predictable. But, while normal routine continued, counselors cautioned that kids would want to do something to reach out, to react to the situation. Maureen Casey, who is based at the high school, said that after the attack she saw one of the student leaders walking the hall with a jar of coins to send to New York. When people are hit with such a tragedy, they want to do something to respond. They want to reach into their pockets and contribute something. That something is not always money. Counselors say that students have responded in different ways; one counselor reports a teenager's car, speakers bumping with rap music, went jostling down the street with American flags fluttering; another counselor said that younger students were encouraged to use writing exercises to write about their feelings after the attack; other students labored over thank-you cards to be sent to rescuers in New York. Positive reactions are helpful, counselors said. It can be helpful to channel those reactions into positive conversations. They can use what's going on to reinforce the family's values, to discuss things like hate, and prejudice. This event is here and now, it's a presence, said Casey. When can reactions to the attack be harmful? Counselors caution that every child will react to these events in different ways; some will withdraw, while some will act out; the emotions could range from sadness to fear and anger. But according to one handout many counselors are using , if children have certain reactions a month or longer after the accident, that may be a sign they have sustained post-traumatic stress disorder. The symptoms include re-experiencing the event in nightmares or flashbacks; anxiety over events that resemble or symbolize the event; an avoidance of reminders of the attack; increased sleep disturbances, irritability, regressive behavior, or poor concentration. The handout, which was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health, also notes that those reactions are relatively uncommon after a natural disaster such as an earthquake, but can be much more common, as high as 28 percent, among the victims of a terrorist attack. That is why school counselors are ready with an eye towards students' needs, and encourage parents to talk to their children, be open with their feelings, and come to the counselors if they have questions or need help. Don Johnson, a counselor at the high school, gave one more reminder: I don't even think that adults can get a grasp on something like this, he said. They have more of a silent anticipation of what could be in front of it. "