Manatee County students reach out to Newtown community after shooting

kbergen@bradenton.comDecember 19, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Samoset Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Emily Lorenzen's classroom door has been kept locked since Friday, when a shooter killed 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., and a nation of teachers and parents had to decide how to explain the event to their children.

Some Manatee County teachers like Lorenzen have chosen to reach out to Newtown as a way to give to a community in need, and have constructive conversations about the tragedy in their classrooms.

Lorenzen's class is sending a package of handmade cards, a paper quilt and snowflakes to the survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, as well as the first responders who helped others that day.

Why snowflakes? The Connecticut PTSA has requested that the nation send snowflakes to cover Sandy Hook Elementary as a sign of support and unity.

"We're giving back. We're paying it forward to these people that helped others that day," Lorenzen tells her class Tuesday.

Lorenzen heard news of the shooting from her fiance during her lunch break Friday. She said she discussed the event with her students and they watched news reports on the television.

"I gave them a big hug before they left on Friday," Lorenzen said. "When they came back on Monday, they knew more

than I did."

Earlier this year, Lorenzen's class made a laminated quilt -- complete with construction-paper squares and a border of student-created sentences -- to commemorate Sept. 11. Lorenzen later brought the heroes-themed quilt to a New York City fire station.

So when Lorenzen asked her class how they could help those suffering in Newtown, her students told her they needed to make cards and create another quilt.

Even though the project aims to extend a humble gesture of comfort and kindness to those left behind in a tragedy, this exercise is also about them. Lorenzen has had multiple talks with her students about how they have felt this week, from learning about the event on Friday to deciding how to help this week.

"I feel good," a fourth-grader says. "We're making cards for families whose kids didn't make it. Maybe it will give them a little joy."

The class talks about how hard it must be to have a happy holiday with a hole in your heart -- so they'll wish Newtown survivors peace and comfort instead of happy holidays.

At the end of the sentence strips and cards, they sign their names.

We are thinking about you. Love, Daniel.

Thank you for everything you did to help people. Love, Keila.

I truly hope you and your kids can forget about this and move on. Love, Deven.

Deven personally decided to write six letters to survivors of the tragedy this week. They are written on lined paper and folded neatly.

"I almost cried when I was writing them," he says Tuesday. "I did some at school and some at home."

Other classrooms in Manatee County are preparing to help in the little ways they can.

Michele Alvarez, a gifted and language arts teacher at Nolan Middle School, encouraged her students to make digital books or presentations to send warm wishes to the people of Newtown. While looking for a website for her students to post their videos, Alvarez stumbled upon the Connecticut PTSA's request for snowflakes, and some of her students will be creating those to send too.

Most of it is on their own time, Alvarez said. She didn't want to require students to help out for a grade. But many needed an outlet and a way to address it on their terms, she said.

"I was trying to give them a positive direction to funnel their anxiety, their sorrow and their desire to support," Alvarez said.

She plans to send a note to ABC News to ask how her students can share their digital creations.

Nolan Middle School sixth-graders will wear green and white on Thursday to honor Sandy Hook Elementary and take a group picture to send to Sandy Hook along with messages of support.

Katy Bergen, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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