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In Wake of Tragic Massacre in Newton, Conn. Last Week, A Look at the Safety of Watauga County Schools

By Paul T. Choate

The new Watauga High School is a much safer facility than the old building. Photo by Peter Morris
The new Watauga High School is a much safer facility than the old building. Photo by Peter Morris

Dec. 17, 2012. Following the tragic massacre of 27 people, including 20 children ages six and seven, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the entire nation grieved for the stricken community and parents everywhere contemplated their children’s safety. 

President Barack Obama spoke in Newtown following the shooting, saying, “You are not alone in your grief. All across this land of ours we have wept with you.”

“We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he continued. “These tragedies must end and to end them we must change.”

In the wake of such a tragic event, it is important for schools everywhere to look at the safety procedures they have in place. According to Marshall Ashcraft, public information director for Watauga County Schools, there is a system in place in the event of a school shooting attempt in our local area. 

“In terms of the bigger question of what we do locally, we have a safe school plan that has been in effect for a while here,” Ashcraft said. He continued saying that lock down procedures are in place at the schools and that those work in conjunction with communication with local authorities. 

Ashcraft also said construction of the new high school has gone a long way in terms of boosting school safety. He described the new WHS as “far more secure than the old building,” explaining that the old building had dozens of doors that opened directly to the outside.

“The new building has remedied that issue and also has better sight lines in the building, so it’s easier to keep track of things,” Ashcraft said. 

Watauga High School also has Officer Bill Hartley, school resource officer, on campus to provide a constant law enforcement presence. The eight elementary schools in the WCS system do not have a full-time resource officer as WHS does, but there is an officer who rotates around to all the schools. 

As for releasing a statement pertaining to the tragedy in Connecticut, Ashcraft said WCS has not determined whether a centralized statement will be required. 

On Friday, ABC News offered the following tips for parents on what to tell their children regarding the tragedy:

Children younger than 7

Shield them from this. They don’t need to know about it.

Children 7-12

They need to know that they are safe, and they’ll look to you for cues.

If you’re sobbing uncontrollably, overly angry or unable to express your feelings, it might affect how they process the tragedy. But if you’re expressing appropriate emotion — like sadness, concern and empathy — they’re going to see that it’s OK to be worried about this.

You want them to talk about it.  You want to ask, “How do you feel about this?” And then it’s important to support their feelings.  If your child says, “I’m really scared,” the worst thing you can do is say, “There’s no need to be scared.” Instead, tell them, “We’re going to keep you safe, and they got the bad guy.”

Children Older Than 12

With teenagers, you really want to engage them. Ask them why they think this happened?  And do they think anything could have prevented this?  You can have a real conversation out of that. You might also be able to channel them to a community project, some act of charity so that they believe they are taking positive action.

High School Pic
Photo by Frederica Georgia


Photo by Peter Morris