Dear Fernway Community:
As many of you know, a devastating fire broke out today at Fernway Elementary School. All staff who were inside the building at the time were safely evacuated. Although my heart was breaking at the sight of the flames and smoke, I was encouraged by the community’s response—including the efforts of the Shaker Heights Fire and Police Departments and from supporting fire departments from across Northeast Ohio.
I was at the school for much of the day and had the opportunity to talk with Fernway parents, students and other community members. Although at this time, we still have many unanswered questions about how we will move forward, I wanted to offer this advice, crafted by child psychologists and school psychologists, that explains how to talk with your students about what happened today.
Sharing the news:
“I have some hard and surprising news to share: there was a fire at Fernway that badly damaged the building. The good news is that no one was hurt and there are now a lot of adults who are hard at work figuring out how to fix the building and get ready for the school year.”
Answering immediate questions:
“You will start school on August 22 as planned, you are still a Fernway student, there will still be a Fernway school (even if it takes some time to repair/rebuild it), you will have your same Fernway teacher and classmates, and Mr. Hayward is still your principal.”
Responding to questions for which we don’t yet have answers:
“That is a really good question – and one that deserves a really good answer. Let me write that one down so that we don't forget it. As soon as we can get an answer to that, we will.”
What parents need to remember:
- Our children take our cues from us. As long as we remain positive, they will too. We should also use our tone and our words to communicate confidence that everything will be okay.
- We all experience emotions in different ways at different ages so it’s quite possible that the news of the fire may not be upsetting to your child.
- We can empathize with children’s worries about what might have been damaged or lost in the fire. At the same time, we can reassure them that there are a lot of adults whose job it is to put things back the way they were and that those adults are hard at work.
We should remember that feeling stressed or anxious are normal and healthy parts of life. It’s important to validate any feeling your child expresses.
- If your child feels anxious about how the fire began, or whether there might be another fire, take the opportunity to show them the fire safety mechanisms you have at home and revisit conversations about fire safety.
We will continue to update you as we assess the damage to the building and form plans for the coming school year.