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Schools attempt normalcy on first day back after attacks

Teachers, staff try to help children cope

Nathalia Deleon (left) joined others at the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston in a moment of silence to remember the Marathon bombing victims.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Nathalia Deleon (left) joined others at the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston in a moment of silence to remember the Marathon bombing victims.

Words like fine and routine punctuated descriptions of a day that was anything but at Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester, where two seats sat empty on the first day of classes since last week’s fatal bombings.

Those seats belonged to third-grader Martin Richard, who was killed in the attacks, and his sister Jane, a first-
grader who was severely ­injured. Their mother, Denise, also injured in the blasts, works as a librarian at the school.

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“It’s critically important to get back to the routine,” said headmaster Kevin Andrews. Still, he acknowledged, “it’s a trying time for all of us. It’s ­obvious. Emotions ranged.”

And so the school day began with the task of returning to teaching and learning while ­acknowledging the absences.

There was the ordinary: Buses rumbled up the tight, one-way street off Neponset ­Avenue at 7:30 a.m. Some parents walked their children to the school tucked at the top of a hill. Students went to their classrooms and then had breakfast.

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But there were also hints of the extraordinary: The school day began with a discussion about what happened on ­Marathon Monday. Social workers and behaviorists worked with every classroom at the school of 400 students, from prekindergarten through eighth grade.Police cruisers parked around the perimeter of the school. And the school ­observed the moment of silence at 2:50 p.m.

Schools across Greater ­Boston resumed classes after April vacation in a changed world. Some teachers tried to stick to classroom routines as much as possible, steering clear of the bombings unless students brought them up.

But the unusual events, includ­ing the dramatic shoot-out between police and the suspected bombers in a Watertown neighborhood, managed to seep into lesson plans.

As usual, geography lessons at Watertown Middle School were supplemented by CNN, but that meant students caught the day’s bombing headlines. And a school assembly on bullying made mention of counseling if students need to talk about last week’s incidents.

“They also told us to wear school colors tomorrow — red, white, and black — because a good amount of it happened in Watertown, and we want to show our pride,” sixth-grader Grace Paul said as she climbed into a waiting car after school Monday.

At the Blackstone Elementary School in Boston’s South End, administrators said, students filing off buses Monday morning declared: “It was a bad vacation.” They asked teachers and administrators: “Did you hear what happened?”

One fourth-grader drew pictures of the bombings when he was supposed to be doing a writing lesson, prompting admin­istrators to arrange for the boy to talk to a counselor. Even kindergartners talked about the attacks.

“They knew pretty much every­thing,” said their teacher, Sandra Marquez, who gathered the class into a circle and ­addressed concerns directly. “I just wanted to reassure them that nothing was going to happen to them. I told them, ‘It’s my job to keep you safe.’ ”

It worked. After the discussion, talk of the bombings stopped and students turned their attention to the tiny worms in plastic containers, eager­ly scooping them out and letting them wiggle around in the palm of their hands.

But Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where suspected bombers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and his older brother ­Tamerlan Tsarnaev graduated, did not feign normalcy. The mood, while not depressive, was described by Superintendent Jeffrey Young as serious and a little somber for some.

The school closed all ­entrances and exits except for the main door and allowed students to meet in assemblies with principal Damon Smith, health specialists, and police ­officers.

Some students wanted to know why authorities did not read Dzhokhar his Miranda rights. Some asked how Dzhokhar, whom many knew as a laid-back classmate, could be charged with such a heinous crime.

But perhaps the most emotional moment came when a Muslim girl who wears a hijab took the microphone in front of 400 of her fellow classmates in the junior class and made a personal plea.

“ ‘Don’t judge me by the way I dress or by my religion,’ ” she said, according to Young. “ ‘See me for the person I am. Not all Muslims are terrorists.’ ”

Young said the class ­responded with a sustained ovation.

Students, Young said, are struggling to understand how accused bombers had emerged from a high school that tries to instill the values of peace and tolerance in its students.

So is he.

“I’m left to wonder how someone who grew up in a place like this, ends up in a place like that,” he said.

Globe correspondent Jaclyn ­Reiss contributed to this report. Akilah Johnson can be reached at ajohnson@globe.com.
Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.
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