Counselors, police on campus as students return; state leaders share words of encouragement

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FARMINGTON — Aztec High School students had their first day back at school today since the Dec. 7 shooting in which two 17-year-old students and a shooter were killed.

Classes at the high school had been canceled since the shooting as the district made efforts to prepare staff for students’ return to the campus, and as the community mourned the death of Francisco “Paco” Fernandez and Casey J. Marquez and began the healing process.

“It seemed to go very well. It was the first day for kids to be back, so I think it went about as good as it could go,” Aztec Municipal School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said, adding “we had a lot of kids there. I can’t tell you the exact attendance rate, but what I will tell you is that when the kids came into the gym and went to the bleachers, they filled them up. Most of our kids were present today.”

MORE: Counselors offer advice for families dealing with trauma after Aztec shooting

AHS students returned for an early-release day that started and ended with support. All students and staff met in the gym for a short assembly, where Gov. Susana Martinez and New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski delivered messages of support and encouragement, Carpenter said.

“(Martinez) welcomed them back and thanked and encouraged them for being there, (and) just gave them encouraging words about going forward,” Carpenter said.

Community members lined Zia Street, which leads into the school parking lot, with cheers and signs of support to welcome students back to school in the morning and to usher them out as they left, Carpenter said.

Students had a relatively routine Monday after the assembly — AHS has early release at 1:45 p.m. every Monday to leave time for professional development for staff, Carpenter said. While students attended classes, approximately a dozen mental health professionals and counselors were available as needed for students and staff in classrooms and common spaces, as well as designated counseling rooms.

MORE: Investigation into Aztec High School shooting could take months

The day ended with a social with hot chocolate and cookies, and each student received an “Aztec Strong” T-shirt donated by Sage Brush Community Church, Carpenter said.

“It was a lighter academic day and a more of a ‘let’s re-acclimate ourselves to this campus and to this process,’” Carpenter said.

Classes will continue on a regular schedule through Wednesday, when the district will release K-12 students for winter break as originally scheduled. The district asked for and received an end of exam waiver from the state, but students will still take final exams this week, though they will be adjusted to cover only the material students learned in their classes prior to Dec. 7, Carpenter said.

All other schools in Aztec resumed classes as usual on Dec. 12, though all schools have made counseling and mental health services available to students and staff throughout the week.

There is extra police presence on the AHS campus this week, too. Carpenter said several officers from Aztec Police Department and Farmington Police Department were on campus today, and that extra security is planned for the rest of the week.

Aztec Police Department Captain Troy Morris said officers spent time in other Aztec schools this past week, and that a few officers are scheduled to be at AHS before school lets out for break this week.

“It’s good to be familiar with the schools, so you know where everything is, and with the students and the staff to bond and to get over this,” Morris said, adding “it’s a horrible event, and for them to get over it, it helps (for us) to go walk through, too.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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