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After Shooting, Santa Fe Students Return to School, Searching for Support and Normalcy

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Santa Fe High School students returned to school Tuesday, passing through throngs of community members and peers who had bused in from a neighboring Texas district to show their support for the survivors of the May 18 mass shooting that killed 10 people.

Students who were in the area of the school most directly affected by the attack—in which police say a student killed eight students and two educators—entered first. They were followed a few hours later by the rest of the student body, the Associated Press reported.

Returning to school after a crisis like a shooting can be a tricky thing, but mental health experts say giving students access to their normal school social networks can be an important part of the healing process.

Survivors of past school shootings have said adults shouldn't rush to return students to normalcy, but the return of routine can be helpful. The 1999 graduating class at Columbine High School is known to some as "the lost class" because they never returned to the school between the April 20 shooting and graduation.

And students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., say school hasn't been the same since the Feb. 14 shooting there, in which 17 people died. Even with added counseling and support services, students have said the return to normalcy has been difficult, leading the district to ask for an exemption from state testing.

Santa Fe High School did not plan to hold regular classes Tuesday. Instead, the school held an assembly to remember the victims and offered counseling services to students. Counseling services are also available for parents and community members.

"Honestly, I just want to go back so I can see my friends and not spend my last three days of senior year just being secluded in a room and have that last memory (of senior year) being (the shooting), because that would honestly suck," senior Hailey Hubbard told the Associated Press.

Hubbard said one of her friends had a panic attack at the thought of returning to school.

Often, simply reconnecting students, teachers, and families with their natural support systems is the most powerful approach to handling a traumatic event, psychologists told Education Week after the Parkland shooting.

For teenagers, that usually means being with other teenagers, which can help them realize that reactions, such as having flashbacks, nightmares, and trouble sleeping, are common and shared by friends, said Thomas Demaria, an adjunct professor in the clinical psychology doctorate program at Long Island University.

But recovery from trauma can be very complicated and difficult as memories of missing classmates are intermingled with memories of a very intense experience, they warned, adding that communities and schools need long-term plans for the months and years after a shooting takes place.

Santa Fe school board member Patrick Kelly told Education Week last week that his son, a senior, was in a classroom next door to where the shooting took place. Like many previous survivors of mass shootings, he takes comfort in being with people who were there that day and understand his experience, Kelly said.

"He's just tired of people asking how he's doing," Kelly said. "He wants to be with other kids who know how he's doing. They don't have to tell the same story again and again."

Since the shooting, the community has heard from teachers and students who affected by previous school shootings at Virginia Tech University, Columbine High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Neighboring towns have also reached out, setting an example Kelly said the rest of the country could learn from.

Students from Alvin, Texas, which is about 10 miles from Santa Fe, piled into buses early Tuesday morning so they could line the streets in front of Santa Fe High School, holding signs to welcome students back, local media outlets reported. They voluntarily came in from their summer breaks to do so.

"I think we don't see enough of the caring and love we need in the world," Alvin student Manolis Tjanis told the Houston Chronicle. "We wait for bad things to happen before we do something like this."

Santa Fe High School students return to school on May 29, in Santa Fe, Texas. This  marked the first day of class at the school since the mass shooting last week that claimed the lives of 8 students and 2 substitute teachers.

--Marie D. De Jesus/Houston Chronicle via AP


Related reading about school shootings and trauma:

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