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Helmut Schmidt, Published October 14 2010

APARTMENT FIRE: Nearby Kennedy students asking questions

Wednesday was “a much more typical day” for students at Fargo’s Kennedy Elementary School, two days after a fire heavily damaged the Galleria On 42nd apartment complex a half-mile north of the school, Principal Maggie Mitzel said.

“There were students with questions, concerns, wondering what they could do to help,” she said.

She said it will be normal for children to have some delayed reactions and concerns in coming days and weeks as the fire is discussed in the news, or as they walk or drive by the Galleria complex.

Six Kennedy students were directly affected by Monday’s five-alarm fire, Mitzel said. Five attend Kennedy, and one fifth-grader is among the school’s overflow population that uses classrooms at Discovery Middle School.

Four of the five children at Kennedy attended classes Tuesday, she said. Two students directly affected attend South High School, said Lowell Wolff, assistant to the superintendent.

Mitzel told the Fargo School Board on Tuesday that she heard about the fire during a PTA meeting on Monday.

She then met with the school counselor and created a response plan, contacted staff, prepared a briefing for teachers and arranged for five more counselors to join Kennedy’s counselor.

On Tuesday, teachers talked with students and squelched unfounded rumors. The idea was to reaffirm for students that the school is a safe place, Mitzel said.

By mid-morning Tuesday, the extra counselors were heading back to their own buildings, she said.

Mitzel said Wednesday that fundraising ideas were being considered.

“I think our hearts go out to all of those individuals and families who were impacted by this tragedy,” she said.

Wolff, who took over disaster planning for Fargo schools in 2005, said beyond those directly affected, some people will have emotional responses to the news or seeing the destruction. Others, perhaps English Language Learners who may have been exposed to violence in their former lands, may find bad memories dredged up by the fire, he said.

“This is not going to be a one-day event,” he said. Some of these reactions and emotions may continue for some time. “We need to be ready to sustain this effort, too.”

He said he observed two children from one family affected by the fire that had opposite reactions. “One couldn’t stop talking, and the other didn’t want to talk at all,” he said.

In another week or so, the student might want to start talking about it, he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583