As classes at Elon commenced on the morning of Jan. 3, the students of Sandy Hook Elementary had their first day of school since the Dec. 14 shooting.

While the presence of a large police force, ID checks of parents dropping off children and the company of parents shadowing their children for the day were atypical for the former Sandy Hook students, the efforts to bring some normalcy back into the lives of the surviving children hung on the walls of a recently converted middle school.

Debbie Kirwin Spanedda, a mother whose son attended Sandy Hook Elementary and was physically unharmed during the shooting, approached the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) in Connecticut about making snowflakes to decorate the new school’s “empty classrooms with no personal items or decorations.”

The project eventually spread throughout the nation, called “Snowflakes for Sandy Hook,” and eventually caught the attention of two New Jersey teachers, Diane Jakimec and Maria Tarda-Herschbein, who enlisted the help of their elementary school students in making the snowflakes.

On Jan. 5, the Alamance County Arts Council and the Children’s Museum of Alamance County co-sponsored their own “Snowflakes for Sandy Hook” event, providing paper, scissors and decorations for community members looking to brighten the Connecticut students’ school atmosphere.

The Connecticut PTSA released a statement on its website expressing thanks for the large number of snowflakes donated by schools nationwide. Although the PTSA has closed the project from further donations, it urged other communities to follow up with similar projects.

“Please take this idea and your snowflakes and create a winter wonderland of your own in your community as a show of solidarity for our Newtown families,” they wrote. “Thank you for your heartfelt and amazing creations and for all of your magnificent notes and kind wishes for the Newtown community.”

In addition to the snowflakes, countless cash donations have been sent to the schools in Newtown, which many parents hope will be used to hire a full-time counselor to speak to students dealing with fear and other emotions connected to the shooting.

At Elon, the Chaplain’s office held a prayer service in December for the victims of the tragic event. Also, the Student Government Association will likely do some outreach or legislation for Sandy Hook when members return in February, according to Mary Morrison, director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement.

This isn’t the first time the Elon community has reached out to help others in need after national tragedies, such as the school’s eight-year commitment to the Gulf Coast and Hurricane Katrina relief work, or the most recent Hurricane Sandy relief trips. And it appears these efforts will be continued through actions taken in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.

“In addition to direct service and donations, faculty and staff have often engaged students in conversation about the greater societal issues and the underlying causes of poverty and violence,” Morrison said. “Tragedies like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech and Columbine High School ask every American to think about how we can make our communities safer for our children and engage in a dialogue about possible solutions.”

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