Newtown's Trees - A Visit to Sandy Hook School
Newtown’s Trees – A Visit to Sandy Hook School
For those of you who have followed my posts about Newtown, you know that I was quite surprised to learn that the committees comprised of community members, State Officials, local dignitaries, and importantly the “impacted families” settled on a theme for their new school; Trees. When I discovered this on a website celebrating the opening this fall of the brand new Sandy Hook School, my heart skipped a beat. Challenged with writing an uplifting story, a children’s book, about a horrendous tragedy involving children, I chose to create an allegory about the town’s beloved trees. The trees, of course represented the children; loved, nurtured, protected, growing up until one day a “sad and angry little boy” cuts down all the trees with a chainsaw. I named the book, “Newtown’s Trees,” after the town in which Sandy Hook School resided, and resides today.
I reached out to the Superintendent of the Newtown School District, telling him how we reached out in support four years ago, and how my book, about trees, captured the same spirit the brand new school represented. I told him I would welcome the opportunity to visit the school in hopes I could donate one of my books to the school library. He responded quite positively, inviting us to visit and bring along enough copies for every school in the Newtown District. On October 31st, we visited the school and I was to learn that there were a number of other connections between my book, published two years ago, and the school opened this fall.
We met the Superintendent, Dr. Joseph V. Erardi at the board office, and he invited us to join him in his office. Coletta, Sade and I followed him, and took seats at a table in his office. He told us that 60% of the staff of the original Sandy Hook School remained at the new school. Most of the 40% who did not, had simply retired or moved to another school. Even more touching, 18 of the 20 impacted families continued to live in Newtown. He told us that the community was the last place anyone would have expected an event like this to take place.
Most of the first graders who survived the attack that day are now in the fifth grade, and moved up to Newtown’s Intermediate School. Several entering Kindergarten students however, lost siblings on that tragic day in 2012. The parents were given the option to attend another school, or start out at the new Sandy Hook School. Most opted to attend the new school. Once the construction was complete the parents were invited to visit the school, and then invited to bring their children to visit.
The old school, incidently was completely destroyed and hauled off to an undisclosed location. Even the furniture was shredded to avoid a “chair from Sandy Hook” showing up on Ebay. In my book, the town has to decide what to do with the trees the boy cut down. They had them shredded…. and turned into walking paths in the new park. Though the new school was not built on the same footprint of the original building, it does occupy a new space on the same campus. It appears to be one of the most secure, if not THE most secure school in the nation. There is a perimeter fence around the entire campus, no one enters without being checked in at a gate at the main entrance. Once cleared they report to another checkpoint requiring approval to enter the vestibule to secure a pass before entering the school itself. The windows are bullet proof glass, cameras cover every square inch of the campus, and two armed police officers are on duty full time.
The new building was, “A $50 Million gift from the State of Connecticut to the Newtown Community.” And what a gift. The wonderful thing about this secure complex is the warm and welcome feeling one has when they approach and go inside. There are soft curves and generous uses of wood, glass and tile. Sandy Hook School is bright and inviting with children’s artwork, stained glass windows, and gives the visitor the impression of a world class resort. Rock gardens, wildflowers, bushes and trees surround the building with windows that bring the beauty of nature inside the school itself.
In my book there’s a line describing how the town pulled together to make their park whole again, and “People who couldn’t come by sent lots of pretty plants and flowers, and lots of pretty little bushes and trees, and they sent stones to line the gardens.” The parallels are uncanny. But the best thing, the one piece of artwork that really got to me, was a mosaic in one of the main hallways. In my book, the last page describes the restoration of the park, “It wasn’t the same as it was before, it couldn’t be. It was different. But in some ways it was nicer, and people were happier, because they remembered what they had before, and how sad they were when it was taken from them. That made them appreciate what they now had all that much more. And they were kinder to each other.” In the hallway, the green and white mosaic featured two words: “Be kind…”