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