December 27, 2012

Newtown trying to give kids a sense of normalcy

The Associated Press

NEWTOWN, Conn. — The children at the Sandy Hook Elementary school won't be returning to classes for another week, but officials from the town, school district and local agencies are doing their best in the meantime to keep them occupied following a massacre at their school two weeks ago.

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Easton police officer J. Sollazzo waves to returning children as their bus pulls into Hawley School, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. Classes resume Tuesday for Newtown schools except those at Sandy Hook. Buses ferrying students to schools were festooned with large green and white ribbons on the front grills, the colors of Sandy Hook. At Newtown High School, students in sweatshirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, betrayed mixed emotions. Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself.(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

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Volunteer Anthony Vessicchio of East Haven, Conn., helps to sort tables full of donated toys at the town hall in Newtown, Conn., Friday, Dec. 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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The students have not attended school since a gunman killed 20 of their schoolmates and six adults on Dec. 14. They are slated to return to a different school next Thursday.

In the meantime, they've been treated to field trips, toy giveaways and some organized play time.

"A couple of the teachers have done pizza parties," said Janet Robinson, Newtown's school superintendent. "Another met her kids at the library so they could have a little reading time together. The most important thing has been connecting the students back to their teacher and their classmates."

The Newtown Youth Academy, a nonprofit sports center, opened its doors to all kids in town at no cost shortly after the shooting. But from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. last week, the building's turf field, basketball and tennis courts, and giant inflatable obstacle course were reserved just for Sandy Hook Elementary students.

There have been arts and crafts for the smaller kids, as well as face-paintings. Some celebrities, including two members of the Harlem Globetrotters and former University of Connecticut basketball star Tina Charles, also have stopped by to play with the children.

UConn's men's basketball team and its coaches made a trip to the academy Thursday and played games with the kids, posed for photos and signed autographs. "It was great for us to be able to see some smiles on their faces and to spend some time with them," Coach Kevin Ollie said.

On Thursday afternoon, school buses were loading up at the Youth Academy for a trip to Stamford and a larger complex, Chelsea Piers, which also has ice rinks and an indoor swimming pool, said academy owner Peter D'Amico. Sports celebrities, such as Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries, planned to meet them there.

"The idea was to get them away from the house, the television and all the coverage of this tragedy and get them to a place where kids can just be kids," said D'Amico, a longtime youth coach in town.

University of Connecticut psychologist Julian Ford, who spent time counseling in Newtown in the first days after the shooting, said it's important for the grieving process to include an outlet that lets children know that while things will never be the same, it's OK to enjoy life.

"They are all going to be thinking about what happened," he said. "That, unfortunately, is inescapable. But this gives them a chance to say, 'Life is carrying on.' Nothing will be the same, but it's also continuing in ways that it should be."

Some students and their parents on Thursday toured the Chalk Hill school in Monroe, a former middle school being reopened next week for the Sandy Hook students. An open house is planned for Wednesday.

"Getting back into the school is like getting back on the horse," Robinson said. "Some of the scariness is gone once they cross that threshold. They are just so happy to see their teachers."

State police said they plan to keep their contact with the children to a minimum as they continue investigating the shooting.

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