Resilient Sandy Hook students head back to school - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Resilient Sandy Hook students head back to school

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Chalk Hill Middle School was renovated to resemble Sandy Hook. Chalk Hill Middle School was renovated to resemble Sandy Hook.
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MONROE, CT (WFSB) -

Students at Sandy Hook Elementary School returned to a school in Monroe on Tuesday to begin a new school year eight months after a gunman shot his way inside and killed 20 children and six adults.

Newtown students headed back to their school to share memories of the summer and what's in store during the upcoming year, and students at Sandy Hook returned to the former Chalk Hill Middle School, which was renovated to resemble the former facility in Newtown.

To ensure the safety for everyone coming to and leaving from the school, security checkpoints have been set up for people to pass through. In addition, a security committee was established to collaborate and implemented enhanced security measures.

One major change is that all Newtown schools now have one single controlled point of entry, including before and after school hours.

"Parents will definitely see armed security at each school, and there will be additional guards at multiple schools," said Debbie Leidlein, who chairs the Newtown Board of Education.

In May, a task force approved a plan to tear down the old building and build a new one on the same property, and residents will vote on that proposal this fall.

One focus some parents are turning to now is rebuilding the old school. They believe it's important to get everyone back in this community. The next phase for that is a town wide vote on whether to approve the money to rebuild it on the same location. That vote is scheduled for Oct. 5.

Families have been speaking all day about how difficult the first day is.

Tuesday was supposed to be about getting back into the routine, but as one parent told Eyewitness News that may not be possible.

"You're standing at the bus stop and you're thinking about the parents who are not," said Erin Nikitchyuk, whose son started the third grade. "It's hard."

In an exclusive interview with Eyewitness News, Nikitchyuk said that going back to school was not easy. Her son was one of the students who saw and heard the bullets that December day inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

"He did say he wasn't going to dress up special today for the beginning of school because he didn't feel it was something to celebrate," Nikitchyuk said.

"The schools have always been a safe haven, safe environment and that all changed on 12/14," said parent Monte Frank, who sent his daughter back to school Tuesday.

Frank admitted it's difficult not remembering that day even though his daughter was confident everything was going to be okay.

"She was ready to go, ready to meet some new friends and reunite with old friends," Frank said.

Frank, who helped start Newtown Action Alliance, which is fighting for meaningful national gun safety legislation, said Tuesday is also about remembering what they are trying to change.

"We want this community to be remembered where change began, not as that place that had that horrible tragedy, and nothing was done about it," Frank said.

Nikitchyuk said it is going to be a challenge this year, even being back from out-of-state made it harder.

"There's no bumper stickers, no magnets, no signs that this happened," Nikitchyuk said. "And even though it's not your face here, there's constant pressure."

Parents of Sandy Hook victims shared their feelings over social media. 

Donna Soto, the mother of Vicki Soto, who was killed while trying to shield her students from gunfire posted on Twitter, "Vicki would have been so excited to start the new school year, she loved this time of year meeting her new little ones. Life is so unfair."

The daughter of Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung tweeted, "Sandy Hook back to school today. Missing my mommy."

On Facebook the father of Ben Wheeler wrote about how hard it was sending his other children back to school writing.

"And we're all conscious of the quiet, the relative simplicity and calm of this very different first day of school," David Wheeler wrote on the Ben Wheeler Fund Facebook page.

The parents of Mark Barden, who was one of the students killed, said in an interview with CNN the first day of school is just the beginning of a difficult time of year.

"We don't know how we're going to deal with Thanksgiving this year and all of December," said Mark Barden, who is Daniel Barden's Father. "It's coming and we're not thinking about it."

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