March 27, 2003
War Goes to School
Educators act to deal with campus safety and students' concerns.
When the United States declared war on Iraq, Chana Zauderer made her own declaration: to ensure that her students are informed and to keep them safe.
On March 21, Yeshiva University Los Angeles Girls High School (YULA) held a schoolwide assembly to review safety procedures and to discuss the war.
"At this age, students need to have information, and the way to reassure them is to give them that information," said Zauderer, who became the head of the school last August.
While the media bombards Americans with images and stories of air strikes, wounded soldiers, POWs and the question of terrorism, teachers and administrators around the Southland are finding sensitive ways to teach students about the events without causing unneeded anxiety. Many Los Angeles day schools and religious schools are initiating discussions, while at the same time beefing up school security.
At the YULA assembly, Zauderer spoke to students about on-campus security and emergency procedures, issues she addressed in a memo to her staff the day the war began. She talked to the girls about the importance of keeping calm during an emergency, following safety instructions and reporting suspicious people and objects to school office.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke to students about the war. "He talked about our perspective [as Jews] and how we were to relate the events unfolding," Zauderer said. She added that Cooper, who spoke at the YULA Boys High School on March 25, also asked the girls to have faith in God and to include extra requests for world peace in their daily prayers.
Zauderer plans to bring in additional speakers to discuss more war-related topics. "[The talks] will be more from a religious perspective, in terms of how we should be directing our prayers appropriately and what we can be doing as observant Jews in these times of crises," the administrator said.
In addition, the school counselor will speak to classes about the psychological aspects of the war and will be available to counsel students on an on-going basis.
War worries and student safety are also at the forefront of administrators' minds at Emek Hebrew Academy in Sherman Oaks. The school has hired an additional security guard and is in frequent contact with the LAPD's Van Nuys Division.
In the classroom, teachers have been advised on how to discuss war-related issues. "We encourage the teachers to spend the time to listen to questions and respond to them in a direct, but not overly dramatic fashion," said Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, the school's development director.
Emek administrators are striving to protect children from unnecessary fears. Eidlitz remembers students becoming ridden with anxiety after watching hours of TV news during Sept. 11 and the first Gulf War.
"They became convinced their world was falling apart," the rabbi recalled. To alleviate stress, the faculty is advising parents to limit children's television exposure.
Like the students at YULA, the Emek children are being asked to say additional prayers when davening each day.
At Milken Community High School, students know they can discuss the war in detail in their history classes, because the school has dedicated itself to keeping students updated and fielding their questions.
"So far, the kids don't seem to realize the realty of it," admitted Fran Lapides, head of the school's social science department. "It's something that's happening far from home."
However, students have taken more of an interest since the faculty staged a school teach-in Feb. 19, at which experts spoke to students about both sides of the then-imminent war.
With most religious school students spending only four hours a week in class, Susan Leider, principal of Temple Beth Am's Pressman Academy Day School in Los Angeles, believes it is still important to address issues pertaining to the war. Secondly, she hopes to communicate to the students that the school is safe.
Challenged with having only a few hours each week to address war-related concerns, Leider has chosen to focus on the Jewish aspects.
"We acknowledge that most kids have had some forum to discuss this," Leider said, "but what we bring to this are the Jewish values. We want to make sure they get the idea that Jewish life is sacred, and that we should not rejoice over our enemies loss of life."
"The loss of life is a sad thing," Leider added, "and that's aside from any personal opinions about the war."
While educators are approaching the topic of war in a variety of ways, it is clear that all are attempting to reach out to students during this uncertain time.
"I think it's important [that students] know they can come to school each day and [a teacher will] spend five minutes at the beginning of class helping them understand what's happened in the last 24 hours," Lapides said.