Sandy Hook pupils return to class

 

The children's desks are the same. The pictures and drawings completed weeks ago are hanging on the walls. And the students' backpacks - left behind as they fled in terror three weeks ago - are once again tucked into classroom closets.

As students from Sandy Hook Elementary School returned Thursday for their first day of class since 20 first graders and six faculty members were shot dead at their school in Newtown, Connecticut, every effort was made to create a familiar welcoming environment.

But, it was not the same school. The Sandy Hook Elementary the children had attended is closed and likely to remain closed for some time.

Instead, classes were held some seven miles away, at the former Chalk Hill School in Monroe, which was transformed over the holidays to a "very cheerful and nurturing" elementary school, said the Newtown school superintendent, Janet Robinson.

School officials said that by bringing the furniture, artwork and backpacks from the old school to the new school, they were trying to make the transition as seamless as possible.

Beyond the aesthetics, workers also had to change a middle school to an elementary school. That meant changes large and small, like raising bathroom floors to accommodate smaller children and lowering paper towel dispensers within reach of smaller arms.

"At one point there were 80 people in the building, cleaning up the building," Ms Robinson said yesterday. A larger staff has been assigned to the school, she said, including mental health professionals.

And for all the effort made to make the school feel like home, the one thing that was missing and could not be replaced were the people who were lost, like Dawn Hochsprung, the principal who was killed while trying to stop the gunman, Adam Lanza, after he blasted his way in on December 14th.

Sandy Hook's former principal, Donna Page, came out of retirement to run the school.

There are also reminders of just how much the tragedy affected people outside this small New England community, including homemade snowflakes sent in from well-wishers looking for a way to express their solidarity.

"There are snowflakes from around the world there," Ms Robinson said.

Yesterday, Governor Dannel P Malloy toured the refurbished school, which had been closed because of declining enrolment. Students and parents were also invited to see the building and their teachers yesterday before a normal schedule was resumed today.

"They have been so excited to see their teachers," Ms Robinson said.

While the goal was to help the children resume as normal a routine as possible, the classrooms in the new school were not set up to exactly mimic those in the old building.

"Teachers were creative in setting up the rooms, and some of them are very different," Ms Robinson said.

Around town, as buses picked up children from familiar stops, there were signs that for all the desire for normalcy, there was still some anxiety. Two police cars were parked at the local high school as stepped-up patrols made the rounds at other schools.

Given all the attention on the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, the authorities said there would be increased security to ensure that there were no problems.

"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," said Lieutenant Keith White of the Monroe police.

New York Times

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