Protecting students from terrorism in Lower Manhattan

Principal Veronica Najjar always knew she would work with kids, but perhaps she wouldn't have guessed how often crisis management as a principal would be terrorism-related.

On September 11, 2001, grade school students were heading into P.S. 89 when the planes hit.

Then on Halloween of this year, with children still in the playground, a truck entered the pedestrian/bike path on the West Side and hit the accelerator, carving a violent path. Eight people were killed and at least a dozen others injured by the time the truck crashed in front of P.S. 89's playground. Right in front, police opened fire on the suspect.

Teacher Karen Collins was right there with her pre-k students. They heard the gunshots and then ran. As they ran into the school, the principal ran down from her office, kicking into crisis mode. She swept up students who hadn't been picked up yet and brought them under lockdown in the cafeteria.

Once the children were in, her focus turned to the adults, knowing if teachers and parents stayed calm. So too would the kids. And that if parents panicked, their children would, too.

For the past month, Najjar has kept an open dialogue at the school and looked for any students showing signs of stress, lack of sleep, or anxiety. She initiated art therapy and reviewed the sketches by students to see if trauma from the truck attack has carried over.

Najjer bristles at the clichéd "H-word" doled out all too easily after tragedies—hero. She says it was her being human. Even out of a classroom, the principal still has, it appears, a few lessons to teach.