Durham elementary school works to help students cope with emotional stress caused by deadly Capitol riot

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly a week after the chaos at the Capitol, stunning images and shocking revelations continue to leave many Americans feeling uneasy, but it's not just voters who are concerned about the violent attempt to overturn the election.

Children are also struggling to come to grips with what's happening. That's why leaders at R.N. Harris Elementary School in Durham are working to ease students' fears.

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Principal Mshinda Middleton-Brown, along with the school's counselor and teachers, have been working to make sure the students know they can still talk about difficult issues even though they're not physically at school.

Kamryn Pate, an 8-year-old third grader at R.N. Harris, saw the death and destruction play out in Washington D.C. on TV.

"It made me feel a little upset. I mean they could have handled it better," Kamryn said.

Kamryn's mom Erica Pate who's also a teacher says he was distraught by what he saw taking place, so they talked about it.

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"You don't want to force conversations, but you do what them to be able to talk about what's bothering them so it doesn't come up and just bubble to the surface and they all of a sudden explode," said Middleton-Brown.

Scenes of chaos playing out in our nation's capital are the latest on a long list of emotionally challenging situations R.N. Harris students have had to process. School counselor Queen Pryor has helped them through it all. Many R.N. Harris students were displaced by the McDougald Terrace carbon monoxide crisis in 2019.

"Then the COVID pandemic hit followed by all of the news coverage regarding the death of Ahmaud Aubery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor then COVID continues and they had to adjust to the virtual learning," said R.N. Harris Counselor Queen Pryor.

And then came a contentious election and hundreds storming the Capitol building in an attempt to overturn it leaving children's minds racing according to Pryor. She provides that extra support for students who just need to talk. Her counseling sessions are a big part of "Wellness Wednesdays" where students can decompress. It's a district-wide program.

"We even offer ballet. We offer gardening and then our fantastic school counselor. She has her sessions," said Middleton-Brown.

There's also art provided through community partners like the Triangle Park Chapter of the Links, Incorporated who sponsored a mask painting project. It's all to help students work through their emotions.

Middleton-Brown says her students are resilient and she looks forward to the day she can welcome them all back to school to talk about their feeling in person included Kamryn who's tired of learning on his computer.

"I'm looking forward to running around at recess time, interacting at specials and being able to hug all my friends and see how they're doing and even my teacher," Kamryn said.

Middleton-Brown says that she so proud of what her students and staff have accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest. She's also grateful for the school district's positive leadership and support. She keeps up with her student's parents through virtual town hall meetings and personal phone calls. Middleton-Brown looks forwards to welcoming her students back to campus for the 2021-2022 school year.
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