Tahoe Valley Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Irene Kaelin asked her group of 30 students Monday to raise their hands if they'd heard about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last week. Twenty-nine hands shot up. All but four of those students had already talked to their parents about the shooting, and Kaelin said she recommend that the others do the same while also limiting their television exposure. “We just talked about it for a few minutes, because you could talk about it all day. When I did bring it up, I was tearing up. All we can say is you're safe here, we have things in place and you need to talk to your families,” Kaelin said. A couple of the students said they'd cried when they saw images of the children on television after Friday's school shooting that left 26 people dead, but Kaelin kept the discussion short and steered the class away from details. Kaelin, who teaches in a portable classroom, said she sometimes feels like a “sitting duck” with only one door and no coat closets. She's started thinking about what she would do if she was ever faced with a situation like the educators at Sandy Hook Elementary confronted last week. “I looked at all my students and thought, ‘You're not my sons and daughters, but you are my kids and I would do anything for you.' I thought about it all weekend. Columbine and Virginia Tech were horrible, but being an elementary school teacher, I cannot wrap my mind around it,” she said. Schools in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District have been practicing lockdown drills for years, but Superintendent James Tarwater said they've hired a consultant to review any vulnerabilities and present the findings to the school board in January. The active response management strategy will focus on refining safety measures at the schools. There are already 60 security cameras in the district, but that number might rise as LTUSD increases vigilance, particularly at the elementary schools. The district will also look at strengthening entrances by monitoring walk-ins more closely and ensuring that there's adequate fencing around the properties. Some of the changes will take place immediately while others won't happen for months or years, Tarwater said. Building a wall at Sierra House Elementary School so motorists can't see children playing from the road won't happen anytime soon, nor will installing one-way glass windows that let teachers and students see out but prevent the public from seeing in, but they're examples of new security measures that the district plans to implement. “We take this very seriously. We'll keeping evolving, but it's a fine balance. We don't want to look like a jail, but safety is our No. 1 priority,” Tarwater said. For John Friedrich, who has a daughter in first-grade at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, it's important not to scare the children needlessly. He hasn't broached the subject with his daughter yet, but when he does, he said he'll assure her that there are people working to keep her safe. “We feel very confident in our local schools and in our community. We're not fearful, but we'd assure her that there's lots of us working to ensure a more peaceful world,” Friedrich said. Friedrich co-founded Small World — an organization dedicated to creating a global community of families committed to ensuring a peaceful world for children everywhere —to help teach children empathy and compassion. It starts at the school level, but he said he'd eventually like to see major policy changes when it comes to gun control and other acts of violence. “My perspective is that the right of children to live needs to be elevated above the right to own semi-automatic weapons,” he said. Friedrich organized a candlelight vigil Saturday night out of compassion for the parents of the children killed Friday. It's important to show those people that they have supporters who are standing with them all over the world, he said. Tami Africa also doesn't want to scare her 6-year-old son. When and if he inquires about the shooting, she plans to first ask him what he fears and then reassure him. But she won't bring up the subject first. “I'm not going to tell him, and so far that seems to be the consensus among parents with kids his own age. He's not old enough to really comprehend or deal with that,” Africa said.
Gingerbread houses on display Four gingerbread houses made by regional high schools will be on display through New Year's Day in the atrium at Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Hotel & Ski Resort. Vote for your favorite house in the hotel located at 4130 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Winter breaks begin in South ShoreSchools in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District and Douglas County School District with break for the holidays next week. Breaks in both districts run from Dec. 24 through Jan. 4. ‘Around the World in 80 Days' auditions set to take place January Auditions for the Lake Tahoe Community College's production of “Around the World in 80 Days” will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. in the LTCC Duke Theatre. Performances are March 15-16, 21-23 at 7:30 p.m. and March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m. Audition scenes will be available at the Theatre Department call board. Backstage opportunities are also available.