Following Gladys Jung Elementary School Principal Chris Carmichael’s arrest last week, Bethel parents are going through some tough conversations with their kids that they never expected to need to have.
Before Chris Carmichael’s arrest last week, Bethel parent Ruth Miller says that she thought he was a good principal. She says that she liked that he attended extracurricular activities, that he had an open door policy, and that he resolved issues she that had with the school. She liked him. Now, she says, she’s questioning her own judgment of people.
“I felt a lot of, I guess it's like shame or guilt that I never suspected,” Miller said.
Some students at Gladys Jung were similarly confused when they heard of the arrest. For instance, local parent Anny Cochrane says that her kids looked up to Carmichael and trusted him, so they thought there must be a mistake.
“The children were thinking that the police had done something wrong, and I think that's really, really hard when you see that,” Cochrane said.
Events like Carmichael’s arrest don’t come with a manual on what comes next. Parents have to develop strategies for how they guide their kids through it. Ruth Miller decided to answer all of her eldest daughter’s questions as honestly as she could.
“I think that came with some more heartbreak, but I think if your kid is old enough to understand the gravity and seriousness of the situation, they should be informed so that they too can make safer decisions,” Miller said.
But Cochrane doesn’t think that her kids are ready for a conversation like that. They know their elementary school principal was arrested, but she’s not planning on telling them why.
“I think that it’s important to not share the evidence with my children because they're not at the age that they can appropriately process,” Cochrane said. “I also am choosing not to shatter their feelings right now, because their Earth has kinda fallen beneath their feet.”
Still, there are many similarities in the ways that Miller and Cochrane are handling this situation. For one, Miller has a new rule for her children.
“Trust no one. You kinda used to say, 'If you’re ever in trouble, go tell your teacher or go tell your principal.' Now the message is, 'You call your mom as soon as you can.' Just don’t trust anybody,” Miller said. “It’s probably one of the most horrible things I’ve had to tell my children.”
Miller says that it was hard to take away that feeling of security from her kids, but she would rather her kids be able to make safer decisions. Cochrane agrees. For her kids, teachers and parents are no longer in the category of people they can trust.
There’s another phrase both parents have been saying a lot to their kids: “I don’t know.”
“And sometimes that's the most credible thing that you can do is just identifying that you yourself, you don't have all the answers,” Cochrane said.
Miller says that she initially didn’t even know where to start the conversation with her kids. The Lower Kuskokwim School District sent out a press release on “How To Have Difficult Conversations With Children,” and she says that helped her a lot.
“I literally had it open when I've broached the subject with all of my children,” Miller said.
The guide says that first, think about what you want to say, and practice. Then, find a quiet moment and find out what they already know. Share what you’re feeling, tell the truth, and above all, reassure them. Cochrane says that last part is especially important.
“These are the moments where we show our children how important they are to us,” Cochrane said.
If parents need more help with these conversations, LKSD has school counselors available at (907) 543-4874 or (907) 545-4429. Bethel Family Clinic (907) 543-3773, and the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (907) 543-6100 also have behavioral health staff that people can contact.