Sandy Hook Elementary School students ride a bus to their new school building in Monroe, Conn. Timothy A. Clary, AFP/Getty Images
MONROE, Conn. -- Buses carrying Sandy Hook Elementary School students
rolled into a former middle school campus here, and classes resumed
Thursday morning for the first time since a gunman killed 20 children
and six adults at the Sandy Hook school in nearby Newtown.
Classes are being held in the former Chalk Hill Middle School, which
closed in 2010 but renovated to accommodate the displaced Sandy Hook
students. The school has been renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Students and parents, who were invited by school administrators
to spend the day at the school, entered a heavily guarded facility
beneath picturesque blue skies on a sunny, 10-degree morning with snow
covering the grounds.
Police officers from Stratford,
Conn., directed traffic at the front entrance, where three police cars
were parked. Other police cars were parked at an outpost a short
distance down the school's main road.
Police officers, including ones from Bridgeport and Trumbull, Conn., were on the scene, keeping watch, on nearby side roads.
Superintendent Janet Robinson said officials were doing their best to
make the students feel at ease. "We will go to our regular schedule,"
she said. "We will be doing a normal day."
A new principal, Donna
Page, who served as Sandy Hook's principal for more than a decade before
retiring in 2010, replaces Dawn Hochsprung, who was among the first
victims when a gunman, Adam Lanza, went on a shooting spree Dec. 14.
want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children
to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move
forward," Page said in a note on the Sandy Hook school's website. "Your
strength and compassion (have) been, and will continue to be, an
inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of
your precious children and our beloved staff."
Robinson said about 500 students attend Sandy Hook, and "the children are so excited to see their teachers" again.
Teams of workers, many of them volunteers, prepared the school with
fresh paint and new furniture and even raised bathroom floors so the
smaller elementary school students can reach the toilets. The students'
desks, backpacks and other belongings that were left behind following
the shooting were taken to the new school to make them feel at home.
one point, there were 80 people cleaning and painting the school to
"make it look cheerful and happy," Robinson said. She said she heard
laughter from teachers setting up things in a new classroom - an
"important" sign that "things were changing."
On Wednesday, the
students and their families were welcomed at an open house at their new
school. Students received gift boxes with toys inside and shared joyful
reunions with teachers.
One father, Vinny Alvarez, took a moment
to thank his third-grade daughter's teacher, Courtney Martin, who
protected the class from a rampaging gunman by locking her classroom
door and keeping the children in a corner.
"Everybody there thanked her in their own way," he said.
Chalk Hill sits in the woods on a quiet road dominated by private
homes. Some displayed welcome signs on snow-covered front lawns. Green
ribbons adorned mailboxes and fence posts. The ribbons are the color
symbolic of Sandy Hook school.
One yard featured a wooden plank that said: "Welcome Sandy Hook Friends Forever In Our Prayers."
Sandy Hook parent Robert Bazuro, who has children in the second and fourth grades, said he was pleased that school was resuming.
"We're very happy the kids are going back and we're very thankful for Monroe for everything they've done for us," Bazuro said.
Numerous police officers on Wednesday guarded the outside of the Monroe school and told reporters to stay away.
"I think right now it has to be the safest school in America," Monroe police Lt. Keith White said.
the open house, Alvarez said his 8-year-old daughter also got to pick
out a stuffed animal to take home from the school library.
not worried about her going back," he said of his daughter Cynthia. "The
fear kind of kicks back in a little bit, but we're very excited for her
and we got to see many, many kids today. The atmosphere was very