A Letter to the Old Trail Community

The following letter from Head of School Sarah Johnston was sent to the OTS community in response to recent events surrounding the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Sent on Monday, June 1:

Dear Old Trail Families, Faculty and Staff, and Board of Directors,

Undoubtedly, the most recent events surrounding the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have impacted us all as it has the country. The ramifications will feel different for each family and you may find yourself struggling to process, as I have, what this means for our country and how we move forward as a society.

Less than one month after the 50th anniversary of the Kent State shootings, we find ourselves having to explain to our children why the National Guard has been deployed to some of our major cities. The images that have supplanted the COVID-19 health crisis on every TV news show are extremely disturbing – a man being held down with a knee pressed into his neck saying repeatedly that he cannot breathe; a group of protesters chanting anguished demands, advancing and retreating as tear gas canisters are lobbed their way; some protest participants violently smashing windows of stores and setting cars on fire; and journalists being arrested as they attempt to cover the startling stories.
It is overwhelmingly painful to watch what happened to George Floyd. It is saddening and frightening to witness the level of grief and animosity expressed at the rallies, and mind-boggling to explain to our children how our nation got to this point. It is easy to feel at a loss to explain this to our children as we realize that we can offer no easy solutions.
To help, I’ve asked Kathi Howard to provide the following guidelines parents can use to guide conversations with their children:
  • Children will process this information and the media coverage of this situation differently based on their developmental levels, their individual temperaments, their sense of identities and how much media exposure they have had. As is always true, it is generally wise to limit the media exposure for our children, as the repeated imagery can exacerbate sadness and agitation in a sensitive child.

  • If your child is curious about the reasons for the protesters’ outrage about this situation, you can engage your child in developmentally-appropriate conversations about racial inequities and racismFollow this link for suggestions for beginning these conversations.

  • Very young children can become quite distraught when they perceive that someone else has been hurt. It is particularly important to limit their media exposure and to reinforce for them that you are there to keep them safe. The verbal reassurance that you will keep them from harm and the physical closeness (hugs and cuddling) you provide is usually sufficient to quell their upset.

  • Older children often want to feel empowered when faced with intensely emotionally provocative situations. You may find that your child wonders what can be done to prevent this type of situation from happening again. You can talk about the effective, non-violent ways to take action against things you think are wrong, both as an adult citizen and even as a child. For example, you can talk about how adults can vote for candidates who support their ideas or how people can write to lawmakers at various levels of government or can submit opinion pieces to publications to try to influence the opinions and behavior of others. You may reflect on how powerful it can be for people to speak out about social injustice issues and how important it is to report acts of unkindness or unfairness if witnessing someone being mistreated. You could talk about how Old Trail School believes it is good for a person to surround him/herself with a diverse group of people in order to challenge his or her own prejudices and in order to grow in empathy and kindness. 
While we do not have all the answers, we may be able to help our children to process this concerning information by addressing what we can learn from this tragic situation. As educators, we will continue to use our position as trusted advisors to your children to develop citizens of the world who will make a difference, reject hatred and embrace empathy. This extraordinary privilege and ultimate responsibility become even more critical in a world that seems to have forgotten the plea of the powerless. 
The events of this past week have also reminded us that each time our children are made aware of troubling news, we are saddened that their innocence is somewhat diminished. The complexity of the adult world impinges on their hearts and minds. But, by inviting them to talk freely with us, to ask any questions (even if we do not have the answers), to express their feelings frankly and to be encouraged to learn a bit, even if from a tragedy, we are helping them in immeasurably meaningful ways. 
As Robert Kennedy quoted on the night of Dr. King’s assassination: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.” ~ Aeschylus
With hope in a time of pain, 
Old Trail School is an independent day school (toddler through grade eight) located in the heart of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.