Divine Redeemer stresses school safety

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

FORD CITY – As news of the unspeakable school tragedy at Newtown, Conn., unfolded on Friday, Divine Redeemer School Principal Nicalena Carlesi put a call in to borough police.

Although the school, like other schools across the nation, has a safety plan in place, Carlesi wanted to know if there was more that could be done.

On Monday she reviewed drills and safety procedures with staff – and on Tuesday, Sgt. John Atherton stopped by to go over those procedures and offer suggestions.

“If there's anything else we can do, we want to know,” Carlesi told Atherton.

Carlesi's concern was in keeping with advice issued on Friday from Trent Bocan, superintendent of the Diocese of Greensburg when he notified all schools within the diocese to stay vigilant and to review all safety procedures.

Jerry Zufelt, managing director of the office for communications with the diocese, said that every school has a crisis management plan which covers school safety and security as well as emergencies including fire and storm events.

Plan reviewed yearly

He said principals are required to review that plan every year and adjust it according to changes in personnel, building configurations and other factors.

The question of whether or not staff should openly discuss the recent tragedy with students was left up to the discretion of the principals, said Zufelt.

Carlesi said that at the request of parents, teachers and staff will not address the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy with students.

If the subject comes up, students will be asked to talk about it with their parents, she said.

“No one, so far, has brought it up,” said Carlesi.

“So I'm assuming parents are shielding them.”

Prayed for victims

However, students and staff have prayed for the people of Newtown at their time of need, said Carlesi.

And although students may not know the details of the tragedy, they will each help bring comfort to the grieving community by decorating pages and cards with hand prints to be hung at the entrance of the new Sandy Hook school facility.

This request came from Newtown teachers who said the hand prints will convey the message: “You are not alone. You are loved. You are safe.”

On Tuesday morning, while students practiced for the school's Christmas concert at the front of the cafeteria, Carlesi and Atherton sat at a lunch table at the back.

Studied codes

They were looking over folders containing the school's emergency evacuation plans and codes used for alerting emergency responders.

Atherton praised Carlesi for the security measures already implemented while behind a partition, students sang the words to a hymn: “And we though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.”

Checked the school

Atherton accompanied Carlesi along the hallways, passing a row of classrooms and noted how the school was up to safety code.

“Being prepared gives you a better defense,” said Atherton, adding that police presence is one of the best deterrents in crime prevention.

“We're a couple of minutes away,” he said of the borough's police department.

Police keep watch

“Throughout the course of the day, we make a couple dozen passes by the Divine Redeemer and Ford City High School.”

Atherton and Carlesi stepped into the unoccupied kindergarten classroom.

The students were at music practice and their teacher, Jane Hulings, took a moment to reflect on last week's terrible incident at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“I can't watch the news,” she said. “Automatically you start to think, what would I do?”

Alert to surroundings

Atherton said people need to be alert to their surroundings and should alert police if they notice suspicious activity.

Carlesi said she has asked parents to pay attention to family members considered to be high risk and to let the school staff know.

“People are the first defense,” she said, adding that as a teacher “you are acting as a parent when you're in charge of these kids.”

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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