Inside Sandy Hook School: Learning To Heal

A school bus passes a welcome sign outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Monroe on the first day back to school. (Reuters)

It's trial and error. DeLoughy also has two nieces living at her home, including one who was close to the shooting. The younger one was soothed to sleep by classical music, reading and rubbing her back.

"There was a period of time where they would wake up in the middle of the night," DeLoughy said of her children and nieces. "I felt like I had a newborn baby again because one would wake up, I'd finally get them settled down and back to sleep and another one would wake up. But it has gotten better."

Each day is different at home and school, and some are better than others. Sometimes, a moment of happiness is interrupted.

Not long ago, Riley was at home and heard Sandy Hook mentioned in a television newscast.

"He said, 'Mom, I can't believe they're still talking about Sandy Hook,' and he was kind of angry, I think because maybe for that moment he thought he got past it and now he was brought back in because it was in the news," DeLoughy said.

She explained to her son that the event is a part of history, that he is a part of history.

"It's with them forever ... and it's tough to get a 7-year-old to understand," DeLoughy said, saying her son asked her, "How can I be a part of history? History is old."

One evening, the family went to a Danbury Whalers minor league ice hockey game. As they were getting out of the car in a parking garage, several car doors closed in rapid succession.

Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

"My son Mark ducked for cover," DeLoughy said. "That was his immediate reaction."

DeLoughy's children knew several of the children who were killed. They are in counseling outside of school learning to work with and through their feelings. Riley, her youngest, has been acting out in ways that he didn't before, including throwing things.

For a while he kept bringing different "sad" stuffed animals to his mother. After his older brother, Mark, sought out a counselor at school, Riley brought his stuffed dragon to his mother.

"He said, 'Mommy, my dragon is so sad today about what happened at my school,' and I finally said to Riley, 'Mommy doesn't have anything else to say to them. I think maybe we should take them to a special helper,' " DeLoughy said.

It worked. Riley sees a counselor after school now.

Academic progress comes second to getting through the day, DeLoughy said. Afternoons are the most difficult because DeLoughy's children, like others, are tired from interrupted sleep.

"I use the ducks as an incentive to get the kids to want to go to school," DeLoughy said. Her children were dreading having to go back to school after the weeklong break in April. As an incentive for all children, Keeping revealed a new duck to the children on the Monday after the break.

"It brought excitement," DeLoughy said. "They wanted to go to school."


Sandy Hook students are expected to remain at Chalk Hill until Newtown builds a new Sandy Hook Elementary School at the site of the old school, which will be demolished. The new school could open by spring 2016.

Deciding whether to renovate Sandy Hook Elementary School or build a new school -- and where to put it -- was challenging for the 28-person task force of selectmen, school board members and council and finance board members that met five times in April and May.

At the fourth meeting, some teachers met with the task force behind closed doors and, when they emerged, the tone was somber as some elected officials questioned whether to send staff back to the site of the killings. The next week, however,task force members voted to demolish the existing school and build a new one in its place, with a new design and a different entrance. The issue will be put to voters as a referendum.

Assuming it's approved, few of the students who were in the school Dec. 14 will ever attend the new school. Only this year's part-time kindergartners -- some of whom had afternoon class and were not in the building during the shooting -- would return for a full year at the new Sandy Hook.

The old Sandy Hook school gets few visitors.

But this spring, old friends returned and stayed awhile. It was the mallard ducks that have for years found safety in the interior courtyard, a place to lay their eggs and raise their young surrounded by brick walls, safe from many predators.

Just as they arrived on schedule, so did their ducklings. The eggs hatched at Sandy Hook earlier this spring.

In the past, the mallards nurtured the ducklings and when they were strong enough, the custodial staff walked them from the courtyard, through the school and out into the world.

This year was no exception.

The Ducks of Sandy Hook Elementary School Facebook page has photos and a May 10 post: "Every year the true ducks of Sandy Hook Elementary are born in the court yard of the school. ... Last Saturday or Sunday the eggs hatched. So here they are, still in the court yard, they will soon be led out of the court yard and to the pond to begin their lives. Good luck, little friends."