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Eastern Suburb schools respond to Tree of Life massacre

November 24, 2018

In response to a shooting at a Squirrel Hill synagogue that jarred the community and nation, Eastern Suburbs schools have raised money, offered counseling and held moments of silence.

“We are all searching for the reasons why these senseless events keep happening,” Plum Superintendent Brendan Hyland wrote in a letter posted to the district’s website referring to the Oct. 27 shooting at Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead and six injured. “We will continue to move forward and look to do all we possibly can to make our schools a place where all students and employees feel welcome and safe.”

Plum School District Communications Specialist Charlene Payne said students were engaged in open discussions and activities focusing on acts of kindness, and joined in a #bethekindkid movement with Avonworth School District. Counseling services and other resources were made available to staff and teachers as well as students.

Hyland encourages anyone in need to reach out to administrators.

“We wanted our families to know that the Plum Borough School District will be there to support your child if they have trouble dealing with their emotions or have concerns and/or questions,” he wrote.

At Penn Hills School District, schools planned a fundraiser for Oct. 31. It was a dress down day for students and staff for a $5 donation. All proceeds went to the Tree of Life Congregation.

The district also offered a moment of silence at its three schools the Monday following the shooting.

Superintendent Nancy Hines said the human resources department sent various communications to staff throughout the day to help promote healing and remind everyone of the available resources.

“Our school counselors and social workers remain available to help students who are struggling to make sense of this senseless tragedy,” said Hines.

Riverview School District’s counselors as well as its liaison for student assistance from UPMC were available the week following the shooting to help students process and heal.

It also posted links to various outlets and tips such as a guide for parents, caregivers and teachers on how to talk with children and youth after a disaster or traumatic event.

Superintendent Peggy DiNinno said Riverview shares in the mourning for the lives lost at the synagogue.

“While the use of these resources cannot heal our hearts completely, nor can their use change what happened on Oct. 27, they can serve to help us to guide our children and to support one another,” DiNinno said. “We continue to pray for all who have been impacted by these tragic events and hope that our children will see the good in the many caring people who have stepped forward to help others through their kindness and love during this time.”

At Gateway, the high school held a moment of silence on Monday for the 11 victims. Counseling staff and resources also were made available to students and staff.

Shawn Whelan, a Gateway High School history and world religions teacher, said the high school’s Multi-Cultural Festival on Nov. 17 will donate half the proceeds to the Tree of Life Congregation. The event is open to the public, and tickets cost $5. Children under 5 are free.

“This school district is an incredibly diverse place,” Whelan said. “Now, after the tragedy, this festival that highlights (diversity) is more important than ever.”

The teacher also runs the Gateway Interact Club, a community service based club sponsored by the Rotary of Monroeville.

Whelan said Rabbi Barbara Symons of Temple David in Monroeville also spoke at his world religion class on Nov. 1.

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