“Code Red. We are having a Code Red drill.” Those words sounded through the hallways of Salemburg Elementary Tuesday, Dec. 18.
“All right, kids, you know how we talked about being safe at school? We’re going to practice that right now. Everyone into the bathroom,” said first grade teacher Judy Coombs as she locked the classroom doors, turned off the lights and slid a green sheet of paper under the door.
All the children huddled together in their classroom’s adjoining bathroom. It was a sea of green as they all wore green shirts that day to honor the lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. When Coombs joined them, one little girl hugged her and nervously asked if this was a drill. “Yes, it’s just practice, sweetie, I promise,” responded Coombs as she gently stroked the little girl’s hair.
“It’s scary. It could have been us. They didn’t think it would happen there,” Coombs later noted.
Given the recent Connecticut school tragedy, anyone’s fear, but especially a child’s, is certainly understandable. Even though they’re young and may not know all the details, children know that something sad and very scary happened at a school.
“First graders are absolutely amazing. Their parents had done a very nice job of talking to them before they came back to school on Monday,” said Penny Kimberly, another first grade teacher at Salemburg. “They understand in an abstract way and they sympathize to the best of their ability.”
In response to the terrible tragedy, Salemburg first graders chose to express their suuport and sympathy for the victims’ families and the entire town of Newtown by sending them sympathy cards, a group photo, and a monetary donation.
“Each first-grader gave a dollar. The total was close to $100. It’s not much but we wanted it to be just what they could do,” explained first grade teacher assistant Mikasa Melvin.
“My students were so happy to bring in the money and make cards for the families suffering,” shared first grade teacher Emma Williams, adding that “doing something like this is important because, even though this did not happen in our county, we still feel the hurt others are going through and we realize that it could have hit home. Some times we take things for granted. We need to remember to show gratefulness for our blessings and show love and sympathy to others less fortunate.”
Indeed, the most important thing is not the amount of money donated or the number of cards sent but the message it all conveys to those who are grieving.
“You know, it’s hard to know what to say or do when a parent loses a child. In Connecticut, a whole classroom was lost in just a few short minutes, not to mention the adults who were also lost. Normally, a family or community rallies together to put their arms around a grieving family, to love them, to encourage them, to pray for them, and to, in time, remind them that there is a reason to get out of bed in the morning,” said Kimberly. “But in Newton, Connecticut there’s an entire community in need of love and support. That’s where we come in. We may not be able to physically go to them but we want them to know that in North Carolina there is an elementary school full of first graders who love them and are grieving with them.”
“I hope that the cards and money will help the families be encouraged and uplifted during these sad moments in their lives. I really just wish we can help minimize their pain,” added Williams.
As teachers who teach children the age of the victims, “we just want to put our arms around them and let them know they are not alone,” shared Kimberly. “Our hope is that the love and compassion we feel for the community will reach Newtown and give them strength to get through another day.”