SILVER SPRING, Md. — As adults grappled with the loss of life and destruction from the explosion and fire at a Silver Spring apartment complex, children affected by the blast are, perhaps, having a tougher time trying to make sense of the event.
Nineteen of the children affected by the fatal fire at Flower Branch Apartments attend Oak View and New Hampshire Estates elementary schools. The respective principals of the schools have been at work planning for the kids’ smooth return when classes start Aug. 29.
Oak View principal Jeff Cline says that, while the children’s world may have changed drastically, their message is: School is still the same, familiar, safe place.
He said, “The importance of providing them with a sense of normalcy from the moment they arrive on the school campus is critical. It’s the same with their parents — they’re looking for that.”
Bob Geiger, principal at New Hampshire Estates, says staff members have already visited the Long Branch Community Center, where the children have been given shelter. “One of the things that’s been hard for some of these little guys in the wake of a tragedy like this is just trying to settle down to go to sleep at night,” he said. One of his staff members was there until midnight to offer comfort and help the kids drop off to sleep, he added.
Cline says staff members from both schools have visited, bringing games, coloring books and other activities. “We’ve read with them, sat with them, talked with them,” he says, and once the school year starts, staffers have been instructed to watch — and listen.
“And as we watch and listen, if something kind of seems out of the ordinary, then we provide a response to that,” Cline said, adding that the school could provide support through counselors or other resources.
Both principals say they’re heartened not only by the response from their staff members and teachers, but from the community itself. Geiger said, “From the night the incident happened, they were watching out for each other. And they still are.”