A re-purposed school opens today for students who attended Sandy Hook Elementary ahead of classes which begin tomorrow.
The open house is at a former middle school in the neighboring town of Monroe. Workers and teachers have been getting the space ready – painting, moving furniture and recreating classroom spaces.
Some families have already visited Chalk Hill school ahead of classes on Thursday. Children have not attended school since a gunman killed 20 of their classmates and six adults in a December 14 rampage in Newtown, Connecticut.
Counselors say it’s important for children to get back to a normal routine and for teachers and parents to offer sensitive reassurances.
The Monroe school has been set up to look like Sandy Hook elementary. The students’ desks have been taken there along with backpacks and other belongings that were left behind in the chaos following the massacre last month when gunman Adam Lanza shot dead 26 at the school before turning the gun on himself.
A team of workers have been painting colorful signs, changing the furniture and even raising the floors of the middle school so that the smaller students can reach the toilets.
Acting Sandy Hook principal Donna Page wrote 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.’
Ms Page took on the role after the elementary school’s principal Dawn Hochsprung was killed in the attack.
She added that parents who wanted to come with their children to the first day of classes on Thursday would be made welcome.
Sandy Hook school in Newtown remains closed and has no date scheduled for reopening. It remains a crime scene following the December massacre.
Father David Connors said his eight-year-old triplets have suffered nightmares, jumped at noises and clung to their parents since they escaped the shooting.
Mr Connors said: ‘I’m nervous about it. It’s unchartered waters for us. I know it’s going to be difficult.’
Connors, a 40-year-old engineer, said he felt reassured after recently visiting the new setup. He said his children were excited to see their backpacks and coats, and that the family was greeted by a police officer at the door and grief counselors in the hallways.
Teachers will try to make it as normal a school day as possible for the children, schools Superintendent Janet Robinson said.
‘We want to get back to teaching and learning,’ she said. ‘We will obviously take time out from the academics for any conversations that need to take place, and there will be a lot of support there. All in all, we want the kids to reconnect with their friends and classroom teachers, and I think that’s going to be the healthiest thing.’
Teachers are returning as well, and some have already been working on their classrooms. At some point, all those will be honored, but officials are still working out how and when to do so, Robinson said.
‘Everyone was part and parcel of getting as many kids out of there safely as they could,’ she said.
‘Almost everybody did something to save kids. One art teacher locked her kids in the kiln room, and I got a message from her on my cellphone saying she wouldn’t come out until she saw a police badge.’
After the evacuation, teachers grouped their children at a nearby fire station, Robinson said. One sang songs, while others read to the students, she said.
Julian Ford, a clinical psychologist at the University of Connecticut who helped counsel families in the days immediately following the shooting, recommended addressing it as questions come up but otherwise focusing on regular school work.