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Helen Jeys: 'Terror came but love remains'

Helen Jeys, Headmistress at AESG, discusses what schools can do, say and teach after tragic events take place

Posted by Lucinda Reid | May 31, 2017 | School life

‘Terror came but love remains’ is the title of a poem one of my Year 8 students wrote a week after the atrocity at the Manchester Arena on 22nd May 2017.  Like many heads across the country, some of my students were at the arena on 22nd May – just a few miles from my school - but thankfully none were seriously hurt. Nevertheless, we were faced – that morning – with an unclear picture of who might have been at the arena and how we should respond.  

Much has been written, subsequently, about whether we should talk about such horrific events to children and, if we decide to do so, how?  However, what is quite clear from the advice of psychologists and counsellors is that we should indeed be talking about it.  Yes, in ways that are appropriate to different age groups and levels of understanding but we cannot ignore the event, the fear children feel and the reality of such horrors.  Indeed, we did talk.  Ignoring the event or feeling that our students were too young to discuss such atrocities was not our approach last Tuesday morning and talk we did.  Yes, it was exam week and space was limited, but my Junior Head talked to the younger girls and I had a period of reflection with students in the senior school.  There were the other practicalities to consider too; specialist counselling, communication with parents and changes to trips etc.  And, of course, we were so very fortunate that our students were safe.

 It will be these themes; the resilience, compassion, strength and determination which typifies the very best of humanity that I will embed in the culture of my school, in memory of those lost

I have, since, talked to a colleague who once led a school in Jerusalem where potential terrorist threats were a daily concern. His advice has led me to think more deeply about how we respond to such events because once the initial shock is over, what do we do, say and teach then?  It is not just about teaching children that we should try and carry on with our daily lives and not live in fear of what might be.  Of course, this is vital to children feeling confident in addressing their fears and we should be open with them – they must continue to experience joy rather than fear.

Cards produced by our some of the youngest girls in the junior school for the victims at Manchester Children’s Hospital

However, I am also thinking now about how the very culture of our schools should change as a result of such atrocities; particularly when they appear to target young people directly.   What we saw in Manchester in the hours and days after the bombing showed us the very best of humanity; where heroism, compassion, unity and pride typified the response of people in this great city.  These are the characteristics of humanity that we can all learn from, teach and praise.  One young Manchester resident sent the following request to a journalist on the evening of 22 May:

“We in this city have not reacted to this terror attack with vitriol [anger]; or with fear … Our first reaction has been to take to the streets with water, with supplies, to open our homes to those who are stranded … If you do choose to write about us, please know that [we] reacted with kindness, empathy, and love.”

The event also brings the precious nature of our existence to the forefront of our minds; the uniqueness of each and every one of us and the narrative of each of our students. It will be these themes; the resilience, compassion, strength and determination which typifies the very best of humanity that I will embed in the culture of my school, in memory of those lost.

Terror comes but love remains

An exclamation of 'run' is heard clear and loud,

Reports of a suicide bomber hitting our city,

We begin to weep; full of great pity,

Terror came but love remains,

We may be different but one thing for sure,

We are Manchester, a United City,

This is Manchester OUR Manchester,

Together, we are stronger. 

Helen Jeys is Headmistress at Alderley Edge School for Girls and for more information, visit the school's website. 

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