UNH doctors lend a hand in recovery after Walpole Elementary shooting
Published: Monday, February 20, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
Two members of the University of New Hampshire Department of Cooperative Extension are lending a hand in the recovery process after a 14-year-old student at Walpole Elementary School in Walpole, N.H., shot himself in the school cafeteria on Friday, Feb. 10. The boy remains in a medically induced coma after surviving a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the face in front of approximately 70 other students.
Dr. Malcolm Smith, family education and policy specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension and family studies professor for the university, was one of many specialists who responded to the incident and is working with the school and community to aid in the recovery process. Dr. Smith is also working directly with Dr. Rick Alleva, who is also a member of UNH Cooperative Extension.
"Our role is to help some of the kids and some of the staff that had been in the building to put into perspective what was going on and to see what their mental states are after the incident," Smith said.
Both Smith and Alleva respond specifically to assuring that those who witnessed the incident are provided with the necessary counseling resources and mental health services. Smith has also responded to national school shooting crises such as the incidents at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.
"One thing you worry about is the kids who are already dealing with the reality of what happened to their classmate and hearing about it just brings about high emotion," Smith said.
It is a critical time for specialists to keep watch at Walpole Elementary, especially in the days and weeks following the incident because of the hype surrounding the shooting.
"We are worried not now about the kids, but a week from now. Your body responds by shutting down emotions," Smith said, regarding the trauma students may be facing in the coming days and weeks when stress symptoms are more likely to take effect. "We will be checking in on the school for weeks because post-traumatic stress doesn't show itself until a later date.
"The Fall Mountain area is a very tight-knit New Hampshire area where there is a lot of support, and I think they will get through it fine," Smith added. "The school did everything right. Counselors from all over the state came to aid, Governor Lynch called to make sure the school is recovering OK and people were supportive from all around the state."
The incident occurred during the period of time in which Walpole Elementary is taking part in an experiment being performed by Smith and Alleva called the Courage to Care Program. The objective of the program is to study the amount of bullying taking place in schools among adolescents in order to better understand how to prevent it from happening.
"Walpole is the control school to compare with Charleston Middle School, which is acting as the test school, in the same district," Smith said.
As a control school, Walpole is being observed without any influence from the program to control bullying. Therefore, the school was already under observation by specialists before the shooting occurred.
"Courage to Care is a nine-week program, and as soon as this test period is done, we will be teaching the program to the seventh graders," Smith said. "The test is being focused specifically on the seventh grade age group because that is the group predicted to have the most issues with bullying.
"Walpole was picked for this study because it is one of the district schools being tested. We're testing kids on an empathy scale which indicates how well the students get along," Smith said.
According to Smith, the victim, Hunter Mack, had exhibited emotionally distressed behavior before the incident, but showed no signs of any attempts to harm himself physically.
The UNH Cooperative Extension Program works with youth all over the state in a variety of ways such as encouraging positive youth development and providing after-school programs to help educate adolescent students on bullying and relationship issues.
Students from UNH participate alongside Dr. Smith and Dr. Alleva in a number of ways to educate the youth of New Hampshire.
"We have students in the family studies program, social work, outdoor education as well as students from the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture department working with Cooperative Extension in educating youth about nutrition and healthy living, parenting programs, teaching children science and technology," Smith said.
Smith brought his specialties to UNH six years ago after making the decision to stop responding to shooting crises such as this, and instead focus on ways to prevent these incidents from taking place. As a contributor in creating the recently restructured New Hampshire law against bullying, Dr. Smith dedicates a great deal of energy toward the effort to create a future where bullying, harassment and discrimination are under control and students are protected.