Ahead of the anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting, Clark County School District officials distributed materials to all of its 364 schools on how to address the day and boosted training for its school-based social workers so they can help if the day re-opens emotional scars.
Schools are taking up Gov. Brian Sandoval’s challenge to wear “Vegas Strong” apparel on Monday, but are otherwise free to mark the anniversary or not as they choose. Experts say it’s important that the day is focused on the recovery the community has experienced, rather than repeating trauma.
“We should learn from what’s happened,” said David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at the University of Southern California, who assisted school officials shortly after the shooting and was again training adults in Las Vegas last week on how to help children cope. “You want the events focused on healing and honoring but not recreating.”
The shooting has undeniably touched those who focus on mental and emotional health. The school district, which had the largest single team of social workers in the area after the Legislature funded an initiative in 2015 to place them on campuses, took on the role of aiding survivors and families in the immediate aftermath of the shooting even though the event didn’t directly touch a school.
“I had social workers and counselors … and members of my team who did their day job and then went and did an 8-hour shift, graveyard, in one of the crisis centers that were set up,” said Tammy Malich, assistant superintendent of the district’s education services division. “I think it was great that A) we had the capacity and B) it helped them as they went back to the schools to deal with something that they weren’t immediately expecting to have to deal with.”
Malich said the effect of the tragedy on the district came in pockets. Among the most affected was a school that had lost a recent graduate in the shooting and others where there were high concentrations of students whose parents were working on the Strip the night of the attack and for a time didn’t know their loved ones’ whereabouts.
She said that in the aftermath, the district is seeing more children come forward to talk with school staff about unrelated traumas in their past.
The shooting has been a catalyst for the district to incorporate the Grief-Sensitive Schools Initiative, which Schonfeld said he’ll help them implement over the next few years. It trains adults on how to help children experiencing bereavement.
“I was pleased to see that the Clark County School District used this as an opportunity to build their capacity to meet the ongoing needs of their students,” Schonfeld said.
Malich says the tragedy has also underscored the value of social workers in schools. She plans to be up at the Legislature advocating for continued funding of the program, which she described as the “single biggest-impact funding stream that I have seen.”
“Common sense is that we can’t teach kids if they’re dealing with mental health issues, if they’re dealing with trauma, if they’re in crisis. Our best teachers can’t compete with that,” Malich said. “So if we don’t have a staff member on campus to address that, to assist the family, to direct the family and connect them to the resources, then teaching almost becomes moot.”