Mood at New London High is subdued on day after six teens arrested in murder case

New London - The mood was somber Wednesday at the city's only high school, the day six teenagers were arraigned in New London Superior Court, two charged with the murder, and four with accessory to the murder of downtown resident Matthew Chew.

A veteran staff member who works closely with students spoke of kids huddling together and talking in quiet tones, a rarity in the halls.

"I've never seen anything like this," she said Wednesday evening. "They talked among themselves. Some of them are afraid that they might be perceived as snitches if they talk to a teacher or counselor."

"So many people are friends and relatives of these kids," she said of the six teenagers. "And some of the girls are, or used to, date some of them.

"There are about 1,000 kids in the school. This probably affects about half of them in some way."

The administration as a whole worked to present a calming, business-as-usual demeanor.

At the closing bell Wednesday, as students poured out of the school into the wind and rain, Principal Tommy Thompson stoically assumed his usual post directing traffic in the parking lot.

It was, he said, a tough day.

But the school system made its "crisis team" of guidance counselors and social workers available to students and staff, he said.

The e-mail he sent to his staff thanked them "for the professional and caring manner in which you conducted yourselves today in light of recent events."

It then went on to say, "Reflecting on the staff meeting, I understand why some may feel the need to allow students the opportunity to discuss the recent tragedy in the community during class. However, this can be counterproductive and exacerbate student stress levels.

"We have trained professionals to hold group or individual counseling sessions. Best practice, as our school psychologist discussed and as referenced according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, is to maintain usual routines.

"A return to normalcy will communicate the message that the student is safe and life will go on."

Superintendent of Schools Nicholas A. Fischer said the school system will take a "long term" and "comprehensive" approach to address the recent spate of violence.

"We need to work together in the city to find out why kids are violent," Fischer said.

He suggested the district look into alternative education programs for students that would be something between regular classes and special-needs classes.

Fischer also said that more resources should be devoted to the mental health of students and families.

"That's especially tough around the holiday season," Fischer said.

But meanwhile, on Wednesday, the staff member spoke of what was going on in the school's halls. She asked not to be identified because the staff was told not to talk to the media, but she said that these things need to be said.

"This isn't going to go away," she said. "This will go on as long as the court case. It's so hard for me to deal with, I can only imagine what the kids are going through."

"Violence is becoming too normal for too many kids," she said.

"The kids need to talk about all of this stuff. We have got to talk about this stuff. This is their life."

Day staff writer Karin Crompton contributed to this report.

s.chupaska@theday.com

c.potter@theday.com

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