Virginia Tech Prepares for Students' Return Virginia Tech students will return to class on Monday, one a week after a gunman killed 32 students and faculty, then himself. With less than two weeks left in the semester, no one knows how many of the 26,000 students will show up.
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Virginia Tech Prepares for Students' Return

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Virginia Tech Prepares for Students' Return

Virginia Tech Prepares for Students' Return

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

Congregation: (Singing) (Unintelligible) Amen.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH SONG)

ELLIOTT: We hear now from two services in Virginia, beginning with the Blacksburg Baptist Church. This is the Reverend Tommy McDearis, who worked as a police chaplain.

TOMMY MCDEARIS: If I've ever had a day in my life when it felt like God took the day off, it was Monday. It felt like nothing had turned out the way that I was praying for it to turn out. By the time I and my team(ph) had finished telling 20 families that their children were coming home...

MARILYN LERCH: Mary Karen Read of Annandale, Virginia - I'm sorry, as a parent, you can't help but wonder what it'd feel like to have your child's name on this list - a freshman in Interdisciplinary Studies. Nicole White, 20, of Smithfield, Virginia, a sophomore in International Studies. And finally, Cho Seung-hui, evidently a very troubled young man, 23, a senior in English from Centreville, Virginia.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL TOLLING)

ELLIOTT: That last voice was Pastor Marilyn Lerch at the Good Shepherd Church of the Brethren also in Blacksburg. Tomorrow, classes resume at Virginia Tech a week after Seung-hui Cho shot his 32 victims and then himself. NPR's Jeff Brady has our report.

JEFF BRADY: The Foreign Language Department at Virginia Tech is a small one. Last Monday morning, two classes, one French and one German, were being held in Norris Hall when the shooting started. Both instructors were killed. German professor Mary Paddock spent much of the week shielding the grieving spouses from reporters. She and a Spanish professor also launched scholarship funds named after their murdered colleagues. That hasn't left a lot of time to think about what to do when students return to Blacksburg tomorrow.

MARY PADDOCK: I can see that there might be some benefit to getting together again instead of having this incident put an end to our semester so abruptly without any warning. But I don't see how the academics can continue at this point.

BRADY: Virginia Tech students have a range of options, from completing the courses to taking whatever grade they have now. Steve Seagull says that's a good way to handle the grade issue. He helped administrators at Columbine High School in Colorado after the shootings eight years ago. Seagull is part of a growing network of specialists who has experience in dealing with the aftermath of tragedies. As students return, he says the first thing is to create a sense of security on campus. That could be as simple as having more police officers walking around. The rest is less concrete.

STEVEN SEAGULL: There is no perfect environment for responding to mass tragedy. We weren't perfect in the aftermath at Columbine, we weren't perfect in the aftermath of 9/11, we're not going to be perfect in the aftermath of God knows what comes next.

BRADY: But, Seagull says, they learn new ways to help people recover after each event. For example, it's important to address victims' needs early. He was at Columbine 10 minutes after the shootings were reported. Seagull says at Virginia Tech, there was more of a delayed response. But he says Virginia Tech's collective pride in the school helps people stay connected to each other. Last week, it came in the form of cheers, even at somber ceremonies.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Seagull says even in an environment where the collective spirit is a source of strength, there also can be pressure to recover from the tragedy collectively. So he says administrators should remind students and faculty that individuals recover in different ways.

SEAGULL: I remember, in the aftermath of Oklahoma City, the lead chaplain for the FBI said: If you don't talk it out, you're going to act it out.

BRADY: That can be anything from anger to substance abuse or even suicide. Seagull isn't advising Virginia Tech administrators, but overall, he gives them relatively high marks. On Friday, graduate school instructors learned how to help returning students. Sherry Lynch is with the on-campus counseling center. She told them if students have trouble concentrating because they can't stop thinking about the shootings, it can be helpful to just start writing.

SHERRY LYNCH: Don't worry about punctuation or spelling or paragraphs or anything like that. Just let the words flow onto the paper. That's very healing because...

BRADY: Jeff Brady, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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