MARSHALL - While thousands of miles away the entire community of Newtown, Conn., grapples to understand how the lives of 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School children and six adults could be wiped out in one senseless act of violence Friday, the entire nation stands united in shared compassion and the inability to fully comprehend the terrible tragedy.
For schools in the area, the deadly shooting is a grim reminder that violence can happen anywhere at any time.
In response to the massacre, a number of area schools have taken steps to re-evaluate district crisis plans and attempt to provide as much reassurance to students as they can.
"This morning, I met with the elementary teachers and handed them an informal sheet that the Elementary Principal Association had put out," Minneota Public School Elementary Principal Harlan Ulrich said. "It talked about suggestions on how to deal with certain topics, how to handle the questions they might encounter and what might be coming down the road."
Ulrich said the suggestion sheet contained information on how to deal with violence.
"There were suggestions for parents and teachers, basically common sense stuff," he said. "We want to reassure the kids they are safe and to keep explanations as appropriate as possible."
To give the students a sense of reassurance, Ulrich said that he and school personnel talked about what they do every single day to keep their environment safe.
"We tried to reassure them of what we do to keep our building safe on a daily basis, so the kids weren't coming in with questions," Ulrich said. "I walk around and try to keep the building safe. The custodians go around and lock the doors after school starts. We just want to reassure them that those things are taking place so we can try to go on as normal as possible."
District-wide, Minneota also has a crisis plan in place and a full-time social worker to guide them, Ulrich said.
"Some of the middle-age students, like third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have mentioned it to their teachers, so the issue has been a little bit of a topic of concern," he said. "But everything has been handled very well."
The Connecticut ordeal is also having an impact at Lynd Public School, Principal Jason Swenson said.
"It's been an emotional run," Swenson said. "But it didn't really hit me 'til last night when I was watching the memorial service. All I could think about was that song about getting down on your knees and praying your kids turn out all right."
At times like this, Swenson said, it's a wake-up call to everyone that there can be a real threat, not only to students, but to teachers, administration and other school personnel who unselfishly try to protect the students in their care.
"Our public doesn't always realize the sacrifices," Swenson said. "You sometimes hear about teachers making sacrifices for their kids, but I'm the one going up and down the hall during the lock-downs out there. I'm the one who'd put my life on the line if it were real. But I would gladly take a bullet for those kids."
Swenson said the shooting rampage serves as a reminder to review and practice lock-down situations.
"It's reality now," he said. "I think for us, we're always taking for granted that it won't happen. So when we've done lock-downs in the past, the students don't really think it could happen. Now with the reality, it will sink in and people will take it more seriously."
The entire lock-down system was evaluated in the administrative office at Lynd School, including a review of the chain of command.
"We're already making some changes, as far as some safety items, although they're very minor, " Swenson said. "We're reviewing all those procedures."
Lynd administration is also making sure every staff member has a copy of the district crisis management policy.
"I have directed my teachers, in their professional learning communities (today and Wednesday), to review the policy," Swenson said. "We want them to have that time for that instead of going over the regular instructional practices they usually do. They can talk about the policy and talk about what kids are saying. Everyone needs to be on the same page."
Swenson also pointed out that Lynd School Superintendent Bruce Houck also has a letter he is sending home for the families.
"It's for the parents," Swenson said. "It's just letting them know how we do regular lock-downs."
Swenson is also making himself available today and for the remainder of the week.
"I've been meeting with teachers as we go throughout the day, asking how it is going," he said. "I'm going to go into my PLCs (today) and Wednesday to see how things are going, and to see if the teachers have any questions of me."
No matter how prepared you think you are, Swenson said, there is always room for improvement, which is why the school will likely practice lock-downs in the near future.
"Once you think you have all your bases covered, you learn you have to do something differently," he said. "
For the most part, Swenson said, conversations Monday were mainly brought up by the middle-school age students rather than the elementary school children. It's difficult to tell, though, whether that will change from day to day.
"We also have a counselor on call if we need her," Swenson said. "It's sad, but one of those realities you have to take seriously. We told our staff to go home and hug their kids and loved ones."
Tracy Area Elementary School teachers were given information from a number of resources on how to deal with potential questions and situations, Tracy Area Elementary Principal Tracey Olson said.
"We passed tips from the National Association of Elementary School Principals and other organizations on to staff, like how to handle it if kids have questions," Olson said. "The main thing is to let them know that we really care about them, we'll do whatever we can to make them safe and that schools are safe places."
While the school staff will address questions and concerns when they come up, Olson said the district does not intend on talking about it as a group or showing any visual footage as well.
"We don't want to show the students anything or talk about it unless they bring it up," Olson said. "If parents want their kids to see it, they can choose to do that at home. We're just focusing on the tips for what to do if somebody brings it up."
This morning, Olson said, the administrations met and reviewed district procedures.
"We reviewed our procedures and we don't publish them, for obvious reason," she said. "We do not discuss those things (publicly) in school. We pass it along to the teachers."