Maria Trozzi is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University and author of 'Talking With Children About Loss.'
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — With the first anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting just around the corner, the media rehash of the tragedy is inevitable.
Sadly, it probably is just as inevitable that the next Sandy Hook or Aurora or Columbine will happen sooner or later.
Parents need skills for helping youngsters cope when far-off tragedies hit home in a world in which shielding your child from life's grim realities is not an option.
A nationally recognized expert on building resiliency in children and adolescents will speak on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. in the Mount Greylock Regional High School meeting room.
is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston University, a consultant at tragedies ranging from 1999's Columbine (Colo.) High School to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to the Boston Marathon bombing and the author of the 1999 book "Talking With Children About Loss." She also is director of the Good Grief Program at Boston Medical Center.
Trozzi also has made multiple trips to Williamstown to help train local teachers. This summer, she sat down with the crisis management teams from Williamstown and Lanesborough elementary schools and Mount Greylock to help them figure out how to handle trauma, whether it occurs close to home or is played out on the evening news.
"Maria worked with us on creating a crisis protocol," said Rose Ellis, superintendent for both elementary schools and the junior-senior high school. "What happens in the first 24 hours is critical."
In the event of a local tragedy, the first priority is physical safety.
"When (Newtown) occurred, there was a lot of thought about the physicality of safety: 'Where are the kids? How do we keep them safe?' " Ellis said. "We started those conversations right after it happened."
Local school officials met with Williamstown and Lanesborough police and fire officials to talk about evacuation plans. But there is more than physical safety at issue, Ellis explained.
It is also important to know the "emotional temperature" of the children in the room — a piece of information that is essential before and after a crisis occurs.
"It's basically understanding who your children are and creating an understanding with them that is age-appropriate," Ellis said. "With younger children, you may discuss the issue but not know when to move on. You do some processing with them and move on.
"Teachers do that instinctively. They know when the children walk in the classroom who may be tired or upset about something that has gone on outside of school."
Trozzi worked with the staff in Ellis' Williamstown-Lanesborough "Tri-District" to develop a crisis protocol.
The district schools each have a crisis management team representing a cross-section of faculty and support staff.
"It's so important for parents to know that teachers are very open to training," Ellis said. "Schools are more fearful now. To have an elementary school targeted in that way was unthinkable 10 years ago.
"We're trying to create some standards we can act on. What if something happens [in the world] before school starts? A very challenging situation is when it happens during the school day. It requires a different set of responses."
On Wednesday evening, Trozzi will help parents learn some of those responses.
Ellis said one key is to recognize that children of every age are going to hear bad news, especially in a connected, media-saturated environment like we have today. The trick is to make sure they're hearing the truth from a trusted adult.
"Parents will call and request that their child not participate in a discussion, and we respect that, but we'll tell them [the child] may hear about it on the school bus or on the playground," Ellis said.
"The best thing to do sometimes is to discuss it and move on. Children are good about wanting to know things right away and then saying, 'OK, what's for lunch?' "