Student reactions mixed on war | SierraSun.com

Student reactions mixed on war

Renee Shadforth

For most students in Truckee schools, the war in Iraq is the first full-blown conflict they’ve ever witnessed.

Teachers have said the war has had an effect in the classrooms, facilitating discussion among students, and on the playground, with children acting out battle scenes at recess.

“My 18-year-old seniors are very concerned with what’s going on. It’s been surprising,” said Jason Estabrook, who teaches government and economics at Tahoe Truckee High School. “We discuss what’s going on everyday.”

Estabrook, who turns on CNN and Fox News during class, said he tries to remain open to every student’s opinion and be conscious of not presenting a bias.

“You have to check [your opinions] at the classroom door, even though you may adamantly disagree with a student’s perspective.”

In the younger grades, teachers have tried to downplay the conflict, saying some students are scared by the war.

“Instead of [the teachers] bringing it up, we let [the students] discuss or share what they are thinking if they want,” said Sue Bower, a second grade teacher at Glenshire Elementary. “We kind of try not to make a big thing about it.”

Some of her students want to talk about the attacks, Bower said, and others don’t.

Other teachers have tried to apply discussions about the war to lessons about life.

“We teach the students to give each other messages rather than arguing when there’s a conflict,” said Kathee Hansen, a second and third grade teacher at Donner Trail Elementary School. “That’s the tact we’ve taken with the war. We say, ‘Adults try to give each other messages, and if they don’t fix it, it creates conflict.'”

Hansen has tried to show her students the parallels, using skirmishes between her students as an example, but they haven’t brought the war up on their own, she said.

“I think they may feel very safe [in Truckee].”

At Sierra Mountain Middle School, some humanities classes have sections on Middle Eastern history. Instructors have also tried to engage students in what’s going on with the war.

“Teachers are having open discussions with students about their opinions,” said Principal Don Beno. “Clearly when there’s something this big on our national conscience, it’s going to lead to some discussion in the classroom.”

Teachers have also taken into account how students form opinions, which are usually strongly influenced by what the children hear at home.

“I really preach the idea that these 17- and 18-year-olds are going to have their own opinions some day,” Estabrook said. “Home plays a big part in the outlook of these students.”

At the elementary level, repeating parental opinions is also prevalent, if not exclusive.

“If kids start parroting their parents with things that probably shouldn’t be said, we tell them, ‘That’s probably a conversation you should be having with your family,'” Hansen said.

At some schools, administrators and counselors are sending letters to parents with suggestions, namely asking parents to minimize the child’s exposure to television news coverage.

“The TV news coverage can be as traumatizing as the event,” said Marti Reedy, a counselor at Glenshire Elementary.

In other cases, Reedy said, the children may be “numbed to the media exposure of the war.”

“I’m not sure they really understand the difference between war and make believe,” she said. “It’s important to put the events in perspective. We think they understand it, but they don’t.”

For more information on how to respond to your child during tragic events, contact your school’s counseling office.