Our hearts go out to the Sparks community — the middle school students and faculty, especially — in the aftermath of Monday’s horrific shooting.
Many of you are aware that our own Stacey Cooper is principal of Sparks Middle School now. I can only imagine the grief and shock through which she must shepherd those under her watch.
Those of us who dedicate our lives to education and the support of children do so because we want to do all we can to help them thrive and grow. We recognize that every word we speak and every action we take are observed and internalized by our children, just as they are for parents. We do what we can to foster grit and resilience within each child, while simultaneously nurturing empathy, compassion and acceptance of those who differ from us.
I have every confidence that Ms. Cooper will provide the best leadership possible during the coming days, weeks and months. At the same time, I am sure that she and her staff can use our thoughts and prayers.
I was in 10th grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. Those of us alive at that time can say exactly where we were when the news broke. If we were students at the time, we know exactly what individual teachers said and how they acted. We wanted honesty, and we wanted to be reassured.
It was not until nearly three decades later that I sat down with my English teacher from that year and heard him talk about that particular crisis from the other side of the desk. He noted that figuring out what to say to his students at the time was one of the most difficult challenges of his long teaching career. Stuck in our own grief and shock, I don’t think it every occurred to us students that the adults in our lives didn’t automatically know just the right thing to do.
Adults who work with children soon learn that answering questions with the right depth of honesty and determining how to impart difficult information is always a challenge. From the cheerful, “Mommy, how are babies made?” query in the grocery store line to, “What really happened at Sparks Middle School?” we must always choose our words carefully. If we are not honest, children sense that right away. By the same token, different situations require varying depths of detail and analysis.
What children hear and see on television or in the movies has a very different impact than what they experience. We cannot protect our children from everything. At the same time, we must acknowledge that exposure to violence has an impact. As an eighth-grade student of mine wisely observed when her classmates were saying they were not affected by violence in music or on the screen, “We know that romantic music affects us and puts us in a certain mood. To say violence doesn’t have the same effect, is ridiculous.”
I urge you to think deeply about the supposed “solutions” that your children see and hear all too easily when they are outside of school.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.