We know by now that kids everywhere have been affected by the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last week.
To help deal with the grief, schools all over the country have responded to the unfathomable incident in a number of ways: by setting up grief counselors, implementing stiffer security measures and encouraging parents to talk to their kids about the shooting.
But at Safety Harbor Middle School, students and staff took the healing process one step further; they’re sending a care package full of cards, notes and letters of encouragement, along with a group photo of the school’s 1,400 students, to Newtown.
“I told the faculty if they wanted to do things individually as a class, we’ll put it all together and mail it out on the 20th,” principal Alison Kennedy told Patch.
“I told them to put their pictures with their items because it would mean more to the kids when they were reading them, but I knew everyone wouldn’t bring in a photo.”
Upon learning of the idea, the school yearbook committee chair contacted the yearbook company, Lifetouch Yearbooks; they agreed to send two photographers to the school to take the group shot on Monday.
Assistant principal Kimberly Miller described a surreal and emotional scene at the school the day they took the photo.
“When they came down to take the picture, they were all silent,” she said. “It was eerie. They knew.”
“For 1,400 students to come down from classes silently, it really was a touching moment.”
But while local newspapers and TV stations picked up on that singular act, the real story was going on behind the scenes.
According to Kennedy and Miller, students quickly began flooding their classrooms with all sorts of items designed to inspire and encourage the Sandy Hook survivors.
What they ended up with was a room full of heart wrenching displays of unadulterated innocence - two tables full of colorful cards and posters designed to lift the spirits of kids who lives were altered forever one week ago today.
“Some kids made quilts, DVDs, one class made a book of daily inspirational quotes,” Kennedy said. “I tried to tell them to say good thoughts, to stay positive and move forward, but they all came up with their own thoughts and ideas.”
Kennedy said the school planned to package everything up on Thursday afternoon and take it to a local Pac N' Send, where they will place all the items in a large box and wrap it in pink duct tape, so the kids will see a bright, colorful package when it arrives.
She said the whole experience has been eye-opening for her and her staff.
“It’s absolutely horrible what happened in Newtown. But it’s really given me an insight to my kids,” an emotional Kennedy said as she held one of the kids’ cards.
“It opened my eyes as to what goes on in the minds of kids when something tragic like this happens. Hopefully it will inspire change.”