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In Marysville, Advice From Columbine's Former Principal

KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld
Students and community members visit the memorial that's taken shape at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Even though the school doors are closed all week, there’s a steady stream of visitors to Marysville Pilchuck High.

They weave ribbons through the fence that runs along the school field.

Gently lean one more bouquet of flowers between hundreds like it.

Arrange tea lights in the victims' names.

[asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "Columbine High School's former principal suggested changing little things at the school, like the sound of the fire alarm that was used to evacuate after the shooting.", "style": "inset"}]]Or just come to see what others have left.

Seventeen-year-old Austin Epstein has stopped by on the way home from a friend’s house.

He knew the two girls who were killed. One was his close friend’s little sister.

"I have no idea why someone would want to do this," he said. "This is our school. You’re supposed to want to go to school to hang out with your friends. Not be afraid to go to school, if you’re going to get shot. I don’t want to set foot back in that cafeteria, let alone the school.

"It hurts just to even be here."

That trepidation is on the minds of administrators at Marysville School District as they try to figure out how to ease students back into school after this week away. There are back-to-back football games scheduled for Friday night, after last weekend’s game was canceled because of the shooting.

When school does restart next Monday, Superintendent Becky Berg says it’s important to keep in mind what students have just been through. The former principal of Columbine High School in Colorado called her this morning to tell Berg lessons he learned after the shooting at his school.

He suggested changing little things at the school – like the sound of the fire alarm that was used to evacuate after the shooting.

"If they were going use that same tone to just do a fire drill, it may trigger things for kids, so they needed to reset the sound of the fire [alarm]," Berg said she was advised.

"If they were going read certain novels traditionally in English and language arts or if they were to study certain conflicts in world history, that they would now have to look at that through the lens of a student who has experienced trauma."

Berg says Friday's incident has highlighted the importance of improved mental health services for students and teaching kids how to take care of themselves and others.

"In these days of pretty oppressive legislation and accountability, it’s easy for policymakers to kind of forget that," Berg said.

"I think this just affirms that we are about families and relationships. We certainly want students to be literate and to be as successful as they can. But the matters of heart and mind matter incredibly.”

Berg said the district is figuring out ways to bring students back to school during the week for grief counseling and other services.

And just to encourage kids to talk to each other about what happened, and what comes next.

Year started with KUOW: 2008