Area schools deal with lessons of war

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Lesson One: Our area schools are safe, despite the fact that our country is at war and a target of attack.

Lesson Two: Students are also being helped through difficult and confusing times, especially those who have families that have been splintered because military parents or other relatives are fighting in the conflict and away from home.

This is the modified lesson plan that schools have adopted now that the war has begun in earnest.

"We are not trying to alarm anyone," said Jackson school superintendent Ron Anderson. "At the same time, we think that if we would ever have something of an urgent nature, parents should know that emergency plans are in place."

Parents in the Jackson and Scott City school districts received letters this week assuring parents that there are school safety and crisis plans. Parents were reminded that schools periodically conduct drills with students that practice proper procedures for seeking safety in the event of an emergency.

Scott City superintendent Diann Bradshaw said emergency plans are basically the same as for fires, tornadoes and earthquakes. Because Scott City schools are near a railroad, they also have a safety plan in the case of chemical spills.

"You hope nothing ever happens," Bradshaw said. "But you have to be ready."

Cape's plans

And while Cape Girardeau schools sent out no such letters, superintendent Mark Bowles said that the same holds true for his district. Bowles said he has been meeting with school leaders to discuss ways to react to certain scenarios and has reminded that school counselors are ready to deal with students who may have absent military parents.

"We're making sure our buildings are safe," he said. "At the same time, we are seeing kids whose parents are gone and who come in with a number of different personal issues daily. The classroom is the greatest place to impact this, with caring teachers, discussions and understanding."

For example, there are four fourth-graders at Alma Schrader who have relatives in the military. That school has launched letter-writing campaigns, to President Bush and to soldiers related to students -- as well as forming a "rainbow group" to allow students to talk about how they feel.

There's even a box in the hall where students have put items that will be sent to soldiers -- such as suntan lotion, candy, baby wipes and cameras.

"By doing these things, we are letting the students deal with their feelings," said Julia Unnerstall-Burrows, a counselor at Alma Schrader. "I've been really impressed with how they've been handling it. It's been in a really healthy way."

Understandably, the students who are dealing with it say it's been hard on them.

While other children watch cartoons or play basketball with friends, 10-year-old Marcus Johnson instead spends his evenings watching the fiery images of war on television.

His uncle, Stephen Johnson, a former University of Missouri-Columbia basketball player turned soldier, is in Kuwait.

"I want to see what's going on," said the Alma Schrader school fourth-grader. "I'm pretty sad that my uncle's there."

Though he misses playing PlayStation and basketball with his uncle, Marcus said he's proud of him. "He's serving his country," he said.

Becky Schneider, 9, watched her father, Glenn, a Marine, leave in January.

"The first day he left, I went crying into the bathroom," she said. "I didn't like it."

But her mom, Andrea Schneider, had a long talk with her, and now Becky said she understands better. It also helps that she talks with her father, who is in California for now, every day.

"We're OK," she said. "The first few days were hard."

Becky also said she doesn't quite understand the war. "I just wish it would all go away so my dad can come back home," she said.

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