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Conversing With Children About Terror

Monday, September 17, 2001 at 2:33 PM

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Cleveland's teachers are facing new challenges this week as they deal with student questions and reactions to last week's terrorist attacks. And as 90.3 WCPN's Renita Jablonski reports, conversation is key.

Renita Jablonski- It’s not unusual for Cheryl Niese, a social studies teacher at Urban Community School, to start the morning off with a current events discussion.

Cheryl Niese- The kids have to watch the news, read the newspaper, or listen to a radio station every day at least for like 20 minutes and then randomly when they come in, then I call on someone and say, “so what’s going on in the world? What’s going on in the United States right now?,” and then we have discussion.

RJ- But Niese says now her seventh and eighth grade students are more involved ion those discussions than ever, asking more questions than ever.

CN- Is the United States going to war? Is Cleveland going to be bombed? Mainly war questions.

RJ- Barbara Oehlberg is a retired child and family development specialist and now serves as a child trauma consultant. She says talking to children about an event like last week’s attack on the United States is necessary.

Barbara Oehlberg- So often we want to spare the children and we say, “well, we won’t talk with them about it,” but they know.

RJ- Oehlberg also stresses that kids need other outlets to help them deal with the situation.

BO- The key is a motor sensory activity that helps a child connect with those internal feelings of helplessness. It’s not a logical issue, it’s not a neo-cortex issue, it’s a different nervous system.

RJ- She suggests children draw or write… something Niese is already encouraging.

CN- I had them write in their journals just about, tell me what you think, tell me your reaction to what happened and what should the United States do, and what are your fears about it and just what you’re thinking. Were you affected? Was your family affected?

RJ- Joni Vassaux is a teacher’s aide at Urban Community School. Vassaux works with younger children, and she’s had some different observations.

Joni Vassaux- Tuesday when a lot of them left early to go home with their parents, then Wednesday we didn’t have school, and then Thursday and Friday they just seemed to be a little more, a little bit out of control, just a little more wild and I don’t know if it had something to do with that or not.

RJ- Oehlberg explains that sort of pattern is normal.

BO- The kids at school, the kids are calm and quiet because they’re numb but once they come out of that it will be expressed through hyperactive behavior and so often the connection between that and an event is not made and it’s assumed it’s a discipline issue rather than a stress issue.

RJ- And Oehlberg reminds parents, if you are worried about what your child is exposed to at school, it’s always best to be involved.

BO- Certainly consult with your school as to how they are assuring playground monitors are going to be in positions to watch for children with acting out behavior, children who are trying to play out what they can’t understand.

RJ- And as always, be ready for kids to surprise you.

CN- One thing that was really neat on Friday in another teacher’s class during their classroom meeting, they started talking about this and the kids brought up on their own they wanted to do something to help these people out, the victims and so we’re either going to have a bake sale or we’re going to have like some kind of dance or something and then the money that we raise from that we’re going to give to the Red Cross.

RJ- In Cleveland, Renita Jablonski, 90.3 WCPN News.

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