Tuesday, January 1, 2013
The students and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School will return to school on Thursday for the first time since the shooting rampage that left 20 young students and six adults dead. The students will be in a new building where their old classrooms have been completely recreated.
Instead of returning to the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., they will be going to the building that used to be the Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, about six miles away.
Sandy Hook school was shut since Adam Lanza carried out his massacre shortly before Christmas.
Since principal Dawn Hochsprung was one of the victims of the shooting, the school will be led by interim principal Donna Page. Page was the school's prior principal who retired in 2010.
"Please know the inspiration you and your children have been to my staff and me as we connect with you at Chalk Hill," Page wrote in a letter posted on the school's website. "Be assured that the towns of Monroe and Newtown are working night and day to ensure the facility is safe, secure, and fully operational for our return," Page wrote.
The school will host a walk-through for families on Wednesday and "Opening Day" will be Thursday.
"I want to reassure you that we understand many parents may need to be near their children on their first day(s) of school and you will be welcome," Page wrote.
The school is encouraging students to take the bus in order to help them return to familiar routines and said parents may come to the school's classrooms or auditorium throughout the day after the 9:07 a.m. opening. They are asking that no more than one adult family member accompany each child in order "to ensure a safe and secure environment."
In addition to a parental presence at the school, comfort dogs will be returning to brighten the day. Small armies of golden retrievers spread out all over Newtown in the days following the shooting to comfort mourners young and old.
Chicago's Lutheran Church Charities' K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs were in Newtown after the shooting and are traveling back to Connecticut today. Nine dogs and their handlers gathered at their building at 1 a.m. this morning to board a caravan of one RV and two vans heading to Connecticut.
"The community of Newtown will be going through the healing process for a very long time," the group wrote on their website. "The LCC K-9 Comfort dogs will be returning to Newtown...They will be there to greet children as they return to school."
The rest of the Newtown school district resumes classes on Wednesday.
Furniture and supplies from Sandy Hook were moved to Chalk Hill in order to recreate the classrooms just as they were.
Teachers photographed their classrooms at Sandy Hook in order to replicate everything about them, from the pictures on the walls to the crayons left on the students' desks. This is all part of an effort to make the students feel as comfortable as possible.
Workers completely retrofitted the former middle school to fit the needs of its young students, including tearing out bathrooms that were made for teenagers and rebuilding them for elementary-aged kids.
New security systems are being installed at Chalk Hill school, and Newtown Councilman Steve Vavrek told ABC News that the school will be "the safest school in America."
For a school that has gone through so much, moving forward does not mean forgetting.
"I want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move forward," Page wrote. "Your strength and compassion has been, and will continue to be an inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of your precious children and our beloved staff."