By LINDA M. LINONIS
Dr. Tina Swanson Brookes, a critical incident chaplain trainer with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, emphasized preparation as the proactive method to handle a school crisis when she spoke at a fire- and police-chaplain training seminar Monday at Hermitage Fire Station 3.
The licensed clinical social worker continues today as the presenter for “Managing School Crises: From Theory to Application” sponsored by Hermitage Fire and Police departments and St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. The Rev. David Williamson is pastor and a chaplain with the departments. Nearly 60 chaplains, clergy, first- responders, mental-health providers and school personnel are attending.
Dr. Brookes, who has worked in a school system for 20 years in North Carolina, also has helped other schools during crises. She was on the scenes of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., and school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Brookes said preparation involves students to first-responders to chaplains. “Use current events to teach children,” she said. Schools must develop a relationship, built on trust, with first-responders, she added.
Adults tend to shy away from talking about school shootings or other violence because they may think it will cause fear in children, she said. “Don’t think kids won’t remember it if you don’t talk about it,” Brookes said.
Children have heard about it through television, newspapers or other people. Addressing the issue will help children, Brookes said. For example, Brookes said, the school shooting at Sandy Hook would give adults and teachers the chance to talk to students about how students there followed teachers’ and police officers’ instructions.
Everyday life brings death into schools — the deaths, by accident or disease, of students and teachers. “With even the youngest child, you can discuss life cycles of dragon flies, earth worms, tigers, sharks and humans,” Brookes said. Some have experienced death because of a pet or older relative.
How children perceive what caused a death may be startling to adults, Brookes said. In one situation at a preschool, a toddler died of an undiagnosed, rare kidney disease. Because he fell off a couch, fellow preschoolers related that the fall caused him to die. “Adults had to explain that the child fell off the couch because he died,” she said.
After the 9/11 attacks, Brookes also worked with a kindergarten class. Many children believed “thousands of planes” hit buildings in the United States. Why? “They saw repeated reruns of the incident,” Brookes said.
“We tend to believe children and teens are OK if they’re not crying in response to a crisis,” Brookes said. “Kids tend to rise to the level of expectation ... handling it or falling apart.”
She continued that though children are resilient, they need guidance and direction and look to adults to provide it. “If we don’t support children in crisis, they’ll heal, but with an ‘emotional limp.’”
Brookes said parents, also affected by the crisis, may not be able to address the needs of their children. That’s when the school system, neighborhood and churches can provide help.
Helping children and adults get through a crisis is about “showing up and bringing hope and love with you,” Brookes said. She emphasized that children also respond to “attitude and intentions” of compassion, love and respect.
Brookes said a crisis disrupts life, so going back to a regular routine helps children get back to normal.
After each crisis or shooting at a school, Brookes said, people ask why. Brookes believes violent video-games should be blamed. “Studies have shown the brain is not fully developed until 24 years old,” she said, adding that video games influence youths’ thinking and behavior. “We have a generation of kids accustomed to violence,” she said, noting the problem is worldwide. Playing video games is an addiction, she said.