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From the Principal’s Pen- April

From the Principal’s Pen

April 2018

Submitted by:  Jennifer McGee, Principal of the Atwood Primary School

When I was a child, and something horrible happened on the news, I would panic, and ask my parents:  “Can that happen to me?”

Immediately, my mother would soothe me (I was from Mattawamkeag, Maine and then North Anson, Maine…tiny towns), and she would always reply:  “Those things just happen in big cities.”

And that worked just fine, in the moment.  But then, we would go on a trip, and the minute that I noticed that buildings were getting closer and closer together, and taller, I would panic and duck beneath the windows of the car.  We were in a city…I would reason…bad things happen here.

Children are, by nature, egocentric.  They are always thinking:  can this happen to me?

Lately, as school violence dominates the news, naturally, we are all thinking: Can this happen here? To us?  To our school?

This is a conversation I had with one of my kindergarten teachers last week.  She was trying to figure out if she could fit all of her 17 kindergartners into her tiny classroom bathroom.  She wondered if she could make a math game out of it so she would not frighten the children…but she had been lying awake at night, wondering: can I keep my students safe if the unimaginable happens in our little school?

And here’s the thing.  This is the conversation that is taking place in every single classroom in the United States.  Every one of our amazing teachers recognizes the fact that no school, no district, no state is exempt from the possibility of a school shooting…and this is unacceptable.

As a school principal, we conduct lockdowns. Drills in which children and teachers crouch in their darkened classrooms, against a windowless wall, not making a peep.  Teachers try to make this “not scary” by giving the children lollipops or smiling bravely at them and whispering “we are safe” while they await the “all clear” signal.  Imagine being a child, experiencing this. Children have no sense of geography.  When they hear of a school shooting, no matter how far away….they believe it is right around the corner.

So, as we all wrangle with past horror stories of school shootings, how do we keep our children from worrying? How do we let them know, they are safe….especially when the dark cloud of fear blurs all of our vision.

I think one of the answers lies in how we all behave around our children.

First and foremost, we all have to teach our children to follow and respect the rules.  Long ago, I think we all learned that safety is often not convenient.  Any one of us who have flown recently, realize…it is definitely NOT convenient. We remove our shoes, we take off our belts, we walk through x-ray machines.  How we behave as we do these things matters.  Children are watching.

Last Christmas vacation, I had the “pleasure” of following a young couple through the security lines of an airport.  The young lady had two bottles of Bath and Body lotion in her carry-on bag. You cannot have liquids over 3 ounces in your carry on…and she FREAKED out when the security guards told her she could not have the items. She was rude, belligerent, and hateful to the officers, and children were watching.  She should have paused, reflected on her mistake, and walked away apologizing for breaking the rules. After all, their rules (although not convenient) are designed to keep all of us safe.

Secondly, whenever there is darkness in a day, and I am upset, I try to do something for someone else.  I’ve tried to teach my children the same thing. Nothing changes the energy of a day any more than bringing a smile to someone else.   Model this for your children, and encourage them to follow suit.

When you hear dark news, make it a point to be kind to someone else…for no reason at all.  It changes the universe…at least in that moment.  Continuing to work to shine beacons of light into the darkness…that job belongs to all of us.

When high school students graduate, I often give them a book called The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker. Perhaps now is the time to actively teach our students to use the gift of their own intuition. Gavin de Becker teaches us: “You have the gift of a brilliant internal guardian that stands ready to warn you of hazards and guide you through risky situations.” So often, we talk ourselves “out” of the feeling when the “hair stands up on the back of our necks”. That feeling is our intuition, and as a nation, we need to start listening. When a neighbor is acting strangely, when a shopper is behaving in an unusual manner, when we feel fear, we need to report. If we are wrong, we are wrong…but if we are right…we could save lives. Homeland security, the local police, and the FBI have not been enough to keep innocent people safe. We all need to actively use our “gift” of fear.

I hope you all know, safety is our number one concern. We practice. We talk about it.  We know you send your children to us, trusting we will keep them safe.  Believe me when I say, your children are our life’s work.  When they are with us, we take care of them as if they are our own.

Educationally Yours,

Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School

Notes, notes, notes:

Jackets and boots on the playground until April vacation…or until the temp is above 50 degrees!

April 13-April 22: Spring Vacation (April 13 is a teacher comp day!)




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