My Visit to Sandy Hook, Connecticut
On Monday, June 13, 2016, I was driving from Massachusetts to New Jersey along I-84, which took me through Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
Only days prior, on Saturday, June 11, 2016, I realized I was near Sandy Hook when I decided upon an alternate route from New Jersey to Massachusetts. I was initially on I-95, but the stop-and-go traffic along the Connecticut coast soon wore me out and had me looking for an alternative route. I traveled directly north along Connecticut’s Highway 25 and realized I would pick up I-84 near Sandy Hook.
I remember that terrible December day in 2012. Just as our Louisiana high school was taking in for the day, news of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy had teachers leaving their televisions on during the day in shock, sadness and sympathy. School is supposed to be a safe, happy learning community. Such a terrible day.
I did not stop in Sandy Hook on my way to Massachusetts, but on my way back to New Jersey, I thought, “When is the next time I will be driving through Sandy Hook, Connecticut?” Maybe never.
I had already passed the exit. I turned around at the next one.
Sandy Hook is a beautiful small town, and the weather that day complemented the geography of rolling roads, leafy foliage, inviting sidewalks, and homey businesses. It turned out that I had stopped on the last day of school for the 2015-16 year, and school was dismissing students right as I was driving through town, shortly after lunch. Kids were walking home, and school buses traveled the roads of Sandy Hook/Newtown bringing students home for the last time in 2015-16.
I stopped at a construction site and asked the workers if they would direct me to Sandy Hook Elementary School. One man asked, “The old school or the new school?” I asked if the old school were still standing; he said, no, but that a new school was being built on the same site. In retrospect, I think his question was his way of asking if I were looking for the original school site or the temporary site where school was currently being held. I asked for directions to the original school site.
He pointed the way. (“When you see the firehouse, take the right immediately before it.”)
So, I did. The new school was still under construction, and in front of the construction site was a manned post. I drove up to the woman on duty and told her I was a Louisiana teacher on vacation, and I had stopped to see the school. She asked for my school ID (which I did not have on me); I offered my driver’s license, but then she asked for my Newtown Board of Ed ID. I clarified that I was not moving to Newtown to teach, that I was a current teacher in Louisiana.
She said that the only people allowed on site were Newtown Board of Education employees.
Construction of the new Sandy Hook Elementary School
I asked the woman on duty if I might ask her some questions. She allowed it but was cautious. (I believe her caution was intensified because Sandy Hook was once again fresh news since the Orlando Pulse night club tragedy had happened the day before, on June 12, 2016.)
I asked her if the elementary students were currently enrolled in school. She said yes. I asked when the new school would open; she said in the fall. I asked for her name and title; she responded that she would rather not say.
I thanked her for her time; turned my car around, and drove away.
I stopped at the hardware store in hopes to interview someone who felt comfortable talking to me. At the register I met Katie Reilly, who was a sophomore at Newtown High School in 2012. I told Katie who I was and asked if she minded discussing her experience on the day of the Sandy Hook tragedy. She said she did not mind.
Between customers, Katie told me that on the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, the high school was put on lockdown. I asked if the schools were close to one another; she said yes. I did not want to keep her from her work; so, I asked if she would mind writing her story for me to post on my blog; she said it wasn’t much of a story to tell but would consider it. We exchanged information. I have not yet heard from Katie, but if I do, I will post her story.
As I drove toward the interstate, I kept thinking what a beautiful town.
Coming July 08, 2016, from TC Press (revised release date):