(CNN) - Facing down a gunman, placing yourself in the path of flying bullets, forfeiting your life to protect innocents. It's a job description fitting for a soldier or police officer, but for a school teacher - an elementary school teacher at that?
What the teachers and principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School did for the children in their care could win a soldier in a war zone a Purple Heart.
But the soldier makes a conscious choice to face mortal danger when he or she enlists. Sandy Hook's heroes did not.
Adam Lanza did not give them that choice when he opened fire in the hallway and two classrooms Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.
Long before it happened, Principal Dawn Hochsprung tried to prevent a shooting - or any other calamity - by implementing new security measures at Sandy Hook. She made sure teachers practiced getting into lockdown mode.
The front door was locked when the gunman arrived. A mother meeting with Hochsprung about her struggling child was astounded that the gunman had gotten in: "It's a locked school; you have to be buzzed in," she later said.
Lanza blasted his way in.
Hochsprung heard the loud pop. She, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond went to investigate.
They were acting as the first line of protection and paid heavily for it. Only Hammond returned from the hallway alive - but not unscathed.
Along with Hochsprung, 47, and Sherlach, 56, four teachers perished.
Victoria Soto, 27, moved her first-grade students away from the classroom door. The gunman burst in and shot her, according to the father of a surviving student.
"She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children," her mother, Donna Soto, told CNN's Piers Morgan.
It's the first day back in class since a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and questions aren't necessarily getting easier to answer. Just as parents and teachers want to know why 20 children and six educators died, many kids are trying to piece together what happened and what it means.
Here are tools, guidance and suggestions to help you decide how to talk about with the kids in your life, whether in class or at home.
1) CNN Student News devoted Monday's 10-minute episode to explaining and reflecting on the shooting and its aftermath. Student News is a free, commercial-free, daily news show for middle and high school classrooms. Some students who wanted to type out thoughts, questions, reflections and prayers are sharing on the CNN Student News A to Z blog, as well.
2) Know the signs of anxiety and fear. Children of different age groups express emotions in different ways, whether they're directly affected or traumatized by conversations and media. Here are suggestions for how to handle each age group, and what signs reveal they're still struggling.
"It is minute by minute, case by case. It's really a matter of listening and responding in a way that fits the framework of their understanding," said Dr. John B. Lochridge, an Atlanta-based child and family psychiatrist.
By Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) – In the 1980s, when I stepped in front of my first class of high school students, we didn’t worry about attacks on schools. The phrase “school shooting” was not part of the education lexicon. The tragedy at Columbine High School was years in the future.
There was no Internet and no cellphones, a time most of today’s students would think was hundreds of years ago.
And yet, something that my first principal said about teaching still rings true today.
“No matter what some people will tell you,” he said, “anyone who is in teaching is in it for the kids.”
The teachers I know are certainly not in it for the money, nor the accolades, nor – despite what some believe – the two months off in the summer. That’s when many teachers find second jobs to make ends meet until they can return to their classrooms.
They’re in it in part because of a passion for a subject and for knowledge and they want to pass that love of history, or science, or math to the next generation.
But more importantly, they are in it for the kids.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - Sandy Hook Elementary School probably did everything right. Its staff and teachers worked every day to create a climate that valued kindness and posted the plan for all to see. They had lockdown drills that trained everyone to stay low and quiet in the event of an emergency. A security system introduced this year required visitors to ring a bell, sign-in and perhaps produce a photo ID. After 9:30 a.m., the doors were locked.
And now it's the home of the one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty children dead and eight adults, including the shooter.
Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction - maybe an overreaction - by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills.
It happened after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, and again after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.
And within a few months or years, it'll be back to cutting security budgets and fighting for time to train staff and teachers.
"The vast majority have a crisis plan on paper. It's much more common that we find those plans are collecting dust on the shelf and they're not a part of the culture or the practice," said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant. "I don't believe we need to throw out the book of best practices on school safety. I think we do need to focus our resources, times and conversation back on the fundamentals."
By Michael Y. Simon, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Michael Y. Simon is a psychotherapist, school counselor and founder of Practical Help for Parents, a support organization for parents, educators and mental health professionals. Simon is also the author of "The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager," published by Fine Optics Press in 2012.
(CNN) - I don't have the answers.
Under the weight of mystery, loss and grief, most of us long for healing and look for answers. After hearing of the mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut, I asked a friend, the principal of an elementary school, how the children and parents there were doing.
"There was a different feeling and a much longer line than usual to pick up the kids," he said "Hugs held longer, smiles broader, more patience all around; these parents were mindful of the privilege of picking up their children today."
Not including the tragic killings at Sandy Hook, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lists over 170 school shootings in the United States since 1997, prompting many to describe the tragic shooting as part of an epidemic of gun violence in America.
How do we make sense of these incidents and their antecedents and envision a better future? I don't know, and neither do many of the so-called experts, but that hasn't stopped them and the mass media from weighing in very quickly.Read Simon's full column
Follow news about Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on CNN's live This Just In blog.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
(CNN) - School shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, may have long-lasting consequences, but with proper support, many children are able to move on, experts say.
Children need to be with their families as quickly as possible after exposure to such horrific events, said Steven Marans, director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence/Childhood Violent Trauma Center at Yale University's Child Study Center.
Marans and colleagues are making themselves available to Connecticut officials, including the governor's office and state police.
The good news is that most kids do bounce back from a single incident of trauma, said James Garbarino, professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them." If children can get back into their normal routines and get proper support, he said, they will do well.
Long-term issues are more likely for children who were very close to someone who died in a shooting, who witnessed the event or who were in close physical proximity to it, Garbarino said.
In addition, "Kids who are having difficult lives before the event are the ones most likely to have issues," Garbarino said.
By Dani Carver, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Dani Carver is a senior at the University of New Mexico majoring in elementary education. She plays intramural volleyball at the university. She is also a member of the National PTA's Youth Involvement Committee.
(CNN) - As a former high school athlete, the recent rumblings surrounding new school lunches have resonated with me, but perhaps not for the reasons one may think. Decades of research show a direct link between healthy eating and performance in sports. For too long, we have accepted that student-athletes just need calories – any calories. That is simply not true. Athletes need nutritious offerings to do their best, whether that is in the classroom or on the field.
That’s why I support the changes and updates to the school lunch program made this year as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. A provision of the law, which took effect this year, requires schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve meals with more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk, and portion sizes appropriate for age groups.
One of the criticisms of the new meals is that they are not meeting the needs of student-athletes. That’s a real concern for some students. But when we look deeper at the issue, the facts may be surprising.
By Radina Gigova, CNN
Decatur, Georgia (CNN) - Most students are not exactly thrilled when it comes to school and homework but three international fifth-graders might be an exception to the rule.
Igey Muzeleya, 11, grew up in Tanzania. His family moved to the United States six years ago to escape the wave of violence.
Eleven-year-old Aung Zawl is from Myanmar, also known as Burma. He has been living in the U.S. for about two years.
Paria Foroughi, 10, was born in Iran. Her parents wanted better educational opportunities for their children and the family also immigrated to America.
Muzeleya, Zawl and Foroughi are students at the International Community School in Decatur, Georgia, and they rarely miss a day of school.
"I like the school, because it's a fun place to be, fun place to learn and it's really cool to be in the school with all your friends," Muzeleya said.
“I like all the classes,” Foroughi said. “They all teach you something interesting, something that I haven’t learned before.”
The charter school enrolls about 270 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The real challenge, though, is educating students from more than 30 countries, some of whom have never before attended school or don't speak English.
By Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) - Imagine a college championship bowl game where the teams are Northwestern and Northern Illinois.
The Wildcats and Huskies are not exactly the first teams that come to mind when you think of football powerhouses, but according to the New America Foundation, they are academic giants among the teams in this year’s Bowl Championship Series.
In its sixth annual Academic BCS, the foundation rated Northwestern No. 1 and Northern Illinois No. 2 among the 25 college teams in this season's final BCS standings.
How did they determine the rankings? The Education Policy team at the New America Foundation considers several factors. It calculates the difference between an entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the other male students at the school; the graduation gap between black and white players on the team versus the same gap among the total male enrollment at the school; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus all black males at the college.
The Education Policy team also factors in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which according to the NCAA’s website is “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.”
According to the Education Policy team’s formula, Northwestern was ranked No. 1 because it has a 90% graduation rate among its football players, with no graduation gap between its white and black players.
Florida 4th graders rank #2 in a worldwide reading test. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart shares the success story.