Dear RPS Families and Staff,
Today, I watched the news unfold about the heartbreaking mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas. As I read the headlines and processed the information, I felt a lot of things; grief, loss, disbelief, deep sadness and anger.
I am angry that since the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, more than 300,000 students have experienced gun violence at school (source). I am sad that governments across the country can pass laws restricting the rights of transgender youth (source 1, source 2) or punish teachers for talking about race (source) but they can’t pass gun regulations to help keep children safe. I am frustrated that billions of dollars are spent on other priorities but we don’t have fully funded schools, adequate mental health services or free meals for students.
As you see headlines about mass shootings, police violence or hate crimes, and as you process your own feelings, please remember that in Richfield Public Schools, we are your community. We are in this with you. Whether you or your child need comforting, resources or action steps, we are here.
When tragedy strikes, it can be hard to deal with your own grief and distress while helping your children do the same. But there are things you can do to help kids handle scary news.
To break the news about an event that kids might see on the news, don’t wait to tell them. It’s better for them if you’re the one who tells them. You’ll be able to give the facts, however painful, and set the emotional tone.
Encourage your children to tell you anything they may have heard and to talk about how they feel. Give them opportunities to ask questions and be ready to share details if they ask. When you encourage your children to express their feelings, it helps them build healthy coping skills that will serve them well in the future.
Little kids in particular might be scared that something similar will happen to them. Try to reassure them that tragic events are rare and that people are working to prevent things like this from happening again.
As you talk to your children, don’t volunteer too much information. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters. It’s okay to return to the topic as many times as your child needs so that they can come to terms with what happened.
Support and Resources for Children and Adults
While younger students may not be aware of current events, our older students and you—parents, caregivers and staff—are keenly aware. As school and district leaders, we want you to know that we are all here to support you, and just as importantly, we are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our schools.
- Reach out to any of your school’s student support staff members:
- Centennial Elementary
- Richfield College Experience Program
- Richfield Dual Language School
- Richfield High School
- Richfield Middle School
- Richfield STEM Elementary
- Sheridan Hills Elementary
- Central Education Center
- Melissa Schramm, School Social Worker
- email@example.com or 612-798-6612
- South Education Center
- Suzanne Hiller, School Social Worker
- firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-798-6216.
- Explore online resources:
- Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers from the National Association of School Psychologists (English | Spanish PDF)
- Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events from the American Academy of Pediatrics (English | Spanish)
- Explaining the News to Our Kids from Common Sense Media (English | Spanish)
- Talk to a professional:
- Does your health coverage include an Employee Assistance Program? If so, this often includes free, confidential counseling services and referrals. RPS staff can find EAP information on the staff intranet.
- United Way 2-1-1 (formerly First Call for Help) can provide referrals for a variety of services (English | Spanish).
School and community violence has become all too common. While we are grief-stricken by this tragic event, it is also easy to become numb or desensitized to the violence that takes place seemingly nonstop in our world.
I urge you not to become complacent.
With tomorrow being the two-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and with the senseless killing of Jahmari Rice in our own backyard on February 1, we know that violence can happen anywhere and at any time. This means that if we are going to create change in our world, we need to start here in Richfield—in the Twin Cities.
Gun violence and hate crimes have been on the rise and it is time we all took a stand. We need to come together—now more than ever—to create the community our children deserve.
Here are a few ways to get involved and ensure your voice is heard:
- Join protests and walkouts. In RPS, students have often led or joined walkouts. We respect their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as their protest remains peaceful. Our practice is to work directly with our student government and leadership groups if/when they wish to plan any type of protest.
- Education Minnesota coordinates lobbying efforts around public education. Their website lists ways you can get involved and includes information on writing your legislator.
- Sandy Hook Promise focuses on protecting children from gun violence and lists several ways you can get involved.
However you are feeling, I encourage you to surround yourself with the people you love. Hold them close and support one another.
Over the next few days, we will keep a close watch on students and continue to support them. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there is anything we can do. Remember that we are an inclusive community, dedicated to each and every one of our students.
Superintendent Steven Unowsky