Mt. Vernon Register-News

CNHI Special Projects

December 17, 2012

Teachers prepare to return to classes after massacre

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Not long ago, officials here promoted their public schools at conventions and conferences across the state, printing newsletters detailing "the highlight of Newtown." The students were among the state's best; the teachers were highly rated. The town had always revolved around its seven public schools — and that was true again Sunday.

One school was the crime scene.

One hosted the prayer vigil.

One more served as the local "crisis center."

And inside another school, located just a mile from Sandy Hook Elementary, the teachers and administrators who had survived a mass shooting gathered for their first staff meeting since the attack. They met in a room in the back of Reed Intermediate School, behind locked doors, state troopers and a flag at half-staff. A team of grief counselors drove from a hospital in nearby Danbury to speak with them. The Red Cross donated trays of food and rolling bins filled with teddy bears.

For about two hours, the teachers spoke with counselors and shared in their grief. They remembered the 20 students and six colleagues who were killed Friday. They spoke about the horrors they had prevented and the horrors they had witnessed. And then, near the end of the meeting, they spoke again about teaching.

In the days ahead, schools in Newtown will once again become schools, and teachers will once again teach. Administrators at Sandy Hook have already found a likely replacement school — a vacant building that is structurally sound but filled with mothballs in nearby Monroe — where students and teachers will restart class in a few weeks. "Minute by minute, we will try to get back to the familiar," Sandy Hook teacher Janet Vollmer said.

But what if the familiar has changed?

Across the country Sunday night, teachers and administrators began preparing to return to their classroom Monday morning, a weekly routine that suddenly amounted to an act of resiliency, a small test of courage. Schools across Connecticut arranged for extra security as a precaution. Principals reviewed emergency preparedness documents with their staffs. Teachers in Newtown planned to meet as a group Monday about the best ways to reassure their students, even as they worried about safety themselves.

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