The majority of Utah's schoolchildren have never come closer to war than their social studies texts, but this week's actions have touched many of them personally or indirectly.
Wednesday night, war became a reality, rather than a word, and schools across the state were prepared to offer help to children as needed. Many youngsters are, understandably, picking up on the adult tensions and opinions and taking them to school along with an apple for the teacher.Schools more directly impacted, including elementary schools bordering Hill Air Force Base, have been working for some time to address children's emotional responses, said Keith Webb, principal of Antelope Elementary School in Davis District.
Thursday morning, he visited each classroom to assess feelings and offer support for the many children in his school who have parents or other family members or friends in the military.
"Up to a half dozen children in some classes have someone involved, although they are not all in the immediate Persian Gulf area," he said. For several weeks, teachers have been encouraging children to talk about the potential for war and how it might affect them.
Children who are familiar with the military may, in fact, may be better able to handle the situation than others who find the whole scenario very strange and alien, he said.
After visiting with the children, Webb invited his students to go with him to the school yard and tie yellow ribbons in the trees as an expression of support for the American war effort.
Hill Field Elementary also has spent several months building support for children of servicemen associated with the base. The school has become a center for an adult support group as well.
School psychologists in several districts have been helping teachers prepare to deal with the emotions children may feel about an intense event they are not able to understand.
In Granite District, Cheryl Tyson, a social worker, and Al Rounds, an illustrator, developed a workbook for children in the early grades. It talks about emotions and feelings and encourages children to examine how they feel and confront those feelings. It helps to alleviate a child's fear by showing how far away Iraq is, so they realize they are not in immediate danger. It also shows how they can help others whose families are more directly involved.
Students at Highland High School in Salt Lake District exhibited a range of feelings in the wake of the allied attack on Iraq. Most were supportive of the United Nations-U.S. decision to take offensive action against Saddam Hussein.
"It was the right thing. We had to do it and it was just as well to do it sooner than later," said Tim Caine.
Erin Nelson agreed. "It's lucky we bombed so many of their missiles," she said. She wasn't euphoric about the results of the early war, however. "Saddam will do something (to retaliate)," she said.
For Brennan Witt, the war has more meaning than for some. As a member of the school's Highland Organized for Planet Earth group, she has become involved in the Utah Coalition for Peace in the Middle East. Early Thursday, she was passing out fliers inviting schoolmates to a peace rally Saturday. She had spent the night at Utah's downtown federal building promoting her cause.
"I'm working as hard as I can. I cried my eyes out last night when it was announced the war had started. I hope we get it over as quick as possible."
Her pro-peace flier put Brenna into a brief but vocal confrontation with a school aide who had strong feelings in the other direction.
Robert Romero, a member of the 1457th B Company Combat Engineers unit, may be called up to participate in the war. He was critical of what he interpreted to be the young student's lack of support for a national effort.
In thousands of secondary classrooms, the same debate went on as Utah's students came to grips with an historical event that their children and grandchildren will be studying when they occupy the same desks years into the future.