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Boston-Area Students Return to School

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Last week, Boston, and the nation, stood still in the wake of a bombing at the Boston City Marathon. On Friday, the city watched as a manhunt for one of the suspected bombers closed down its streets. On Monday, area students returned to school.

Aside from their proximity to the bombings and the manhunt, several Boston-area school systems have been personally touched by the the tragedies of last week. Two of their students, 8-year-old Martin William Richard, of Dorchester, and 29-year-old Krystle Campbell, who attended the University of Massachusetts-Boston, were killed in the blasts. The two suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokar Tsarnaev, had graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in the Cambridge Public School District.

"Students wish they had had a more normal vacation than they did," said Lee McGuire, chief communications officer of the 55,000-student Boston Public Schools. "But being back with teachers and friends is helpful, and we've been able to back that up with counseling."

To prepare to ease students back from their scheduled April vacation, the Boston district compiled resources for its teachers and parents, which were made available on the district website. The school system, which employs 60 crisis counselors, enlisted additional support from 250 mental health providers from the community, so that any time a student appeared to need support, the school was able to connect them with help.

Across the Charles River, in the 6,000-student Cambridge district, special measures were taken to ensure students' security, easy and safe passage into their schools, and the availability of counseling services. The district called an emergency meeting on Saturday that included the high school's staff as well as city officials.

In addition to their counselors on staff, Cambridge schools brought in counselors from the Cambridge Health Alliance and Riverside Trauma Center to provide additional support for students throughout the week.

The district also had a voluntary staff meeting Sunday evening to nail down planning for Monday morning,and also give teachers time to talk about and process their feelings.

"In a crisis, we need to take care of our caretakers," said Cambridge Superintendent Jeffrey Young.

Overall, the first day back to school went smoothly, he said.

"The first day back, students were in a serious mood," said Young. "But I think kids were happy to be back in a community where people care about them and who they care about."

At Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, assemblies on Monday, led by principal Damon Smith, informed students of general school security details and counseling services, and also allowed them to ask questions about and discuss the previous week's events.

"We didn't quite know what to expect, because as a city, we haven't faced this type of challenge before," said McGuire of Boston Public Schools. "Our teachers are doing an amazing job of helping students process what happened."

In a conference call Sunday evening, Boston Superintendent Carol Johnson told school system families: "We are all proud of the Boston police and the so many others who worked to keep us safe. We look forward to seeing you back in school tomorrow." She also informed families that some schools might hold a moment of silence to mark the one-week anniversary of the bombing and added that school leaders and counseling teams would be ready to help students "who may have trouble processing what happened last week."

"This is more than a one-week effort," said McGuire. "Our students and families had very different experiences, and their reactions won't necessarily show up right away. We will stay vigilant of how students are processing what happened and will be making continuous efforts to support our students."

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