When the children of Sandy Hook Elementary arrive at their new school in a nearby town in January, a surprise winter wonderland will be greeting them with an unlikely element: snowflakes from Coral Gables.
As part of a national PTA campaign to blanket the school in handmade snowflakes, Ponce de Leon Middle school students recently pulled out their protractors and employed some geometry to make their own unique snowflakes. They also set up a drop box outside the school for others to contribute.
The campaign, launched just two days after the shooting that killed 20 young students and six school staff, has already gone viral with students from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Virginia joining in.
“They’ve started to get thousands upon thousands,” said Betsy Landers, president of the National PTA, which is helping the Connecticut PTSA organize the project. “It really has caught everyone’s imagination and for those of us involved, we really believe when those children walk in to that school, it’s going to mean so much.”
The idea sprang from a meeting between Newtown’s school superintendent, residents, the Connecticut PTSA’s board of directors and PTA representatives from area schools, on the Sunday following the shooting, Landers explained. Everyone was concerned not just about the immediate effect on the school’s children, but providing long-term support, she said. So they established a fund, the Connecticut PTSA Sandy Hook Fund. Then they turned to the new school.
Located in nearby Monroe, the former middle school has been closed for two years, Landers said. To ready the campus, district workers and volunteers have been moving furniture and supplies and retrofitting the school to accommodate younger elementary students. More importantly, they want the school to feel warm and welcoming to students following the horrific shooting, she said.
“They’ve taken great pains ... to bring the school back to life,” she said. “They were moving as much as they could from Sandy Hill, like the children’s cubbies. So they’re doing as much as possible to make it a warm place.”
Ponce teacher Juanita Miquel Garcia first heard about the snowflakes on the radio and sent out an email to the faculty asking if anyone had information, said teacher Lynn Bryan. Bryan, who oversees the school’s community service projects, looked online and quickly crafted a flier asking students and teachers to participate. She also forwarded a lesson plan for math teachers that incorporates some geometry into making a more difficult six-sided snowflake.
“It’s one thing to donate money, but in a situation like this, money doesn’t really do anything,” she said. “For the kids to come back and see that kids from all over the country are thinking of them in a hard time means so much....Some are writing notes just to let the kids know there are kids out there who care about what they’re going through.”
The snowflakes must arrive at the Connecticut PTSA’s Hamden office by Jan. 12, giving little time to organize the project, particularly with the winter holiday starting Friday. So Bryan and students decorated a bin for drop offs, which they’ll leave by the school’s front entrance on Augusto Street.
Both Landers and Bryan suggested families use the project as a chance to sit down together over the holidays.
“Over the break families have time for doing things like this,” Bryan said. “How often these days do we sit with scissors and paper and create?”
The last day the school will accept snowflakes is Jan. 6, so they can be shipped in time. Once they arrive in Connecticut, volunteers will decorate the school, Landers said.
“There will be a cadre of volunteers to make sure it’s a winter wonderland when the children come back,” she said. “To show this support and compassion? It’s pretty special in the light of this horrific tragedy.”
For more information about the snowflakes, make donations to the school or find resources for dealing with the shooting, the national PTA has provided information and links on its website, www.pta.org.