Joliet students create snowflake designs to comfort survivors of Sandy Hook School shootings
By Tony Graf email@example.com December 20, 2012 6:16PM
Heather Watson, a Literary Lab teacher at Gompers Junior High School, looks through a snowflake at the school in joliet, IL on Thursday December 20, 2012. She has family members in Connecticut who have been affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and decided to join a Newtown PTA "Snowflake Project," by making, with students. handmade snowflakes as a donation to comfort the students from Sandy Hook when they return to a new school. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 20, 2012 10:06PM
JOLIET — Isaura Arroyo created a paper snowflake with wisps of color, a work of intricacy and understatement, to comfort students of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
When Sandy Hook students return to class, they will be in a different building in another town, an unfamiliar environment — all in the wake of last week’s tragic mass shooting at their school.
Half a country away, Joliet students are participating in the Snowflake Project, which will decorate that unfamiliar building with bright, wintry, sparkling designs.
Isaura, an eighth-grader at Gompers Junior High School in Joliet, will send a snowflake that sets a tone for a comforting message: mild and gentle. Her design had only a touch of glue and very little glitter — just a frosting of pink and crystal.
“The little kids who live in Newtown will feel comfortable in the school, and feel welcomed,” Isaura said of the Snowflake Project, which is being spearheaded by the Connecticut Parent-Teacher-Student Association.
On Thursday, more than 800 Gompers students made snowflakes for the project. Heather Watson, a teacher at Gompers, led the local effort. She has family in Danbury, Conn., near Newtown. One cousin works with a woman who lost a friend in the tragedy.
“It’s hit my family out in Danbury very, very hard,” Watson told students.
At Gompers, Watson led several classes through the Snowflake Project. She showed each group how to cut the paper into unique designs, and then she helped apply glue and glitter.
On Dec. 14, a gunman killed his mother at home, then 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook before killing himself. The aftermath of the tragedy is a terribly difficult time for surviving students, Watson said.
“After break, the kids are going to go back to school, but they’re not going back to the same building,” Watson said, referring to plans for classes at Chalk Hill Middle School in Monroe, Conn.
Switching to an unfamiliar school in the middle of the year “is going to be scary enough.”
“When you think about it, they’re 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-year-olds. It’s scary, after what happened, what they went through.”
“So what the parents wanted to do was make snowflakes,” Watson said. “And they’re going to decorate the halls and the classrooms ... for these kids to come in, and just feel a little bit more welcome, and maybe a little bit more safe.”
Watson teaches a total of 150 to 180 children in her various classes. Her original thought was to create that number of snowflakes. But after other teachers got involved, the number skyrocketed to more than 800 — essentially the entire school.
After Principal Constance Russell made her snowflake, she observed the students’ work.
“Simple elegance,” Russell said of one student’s creation, which resembled Isaura’s design.
During one class session, Choir Director Jennifer Wynveen led a group of students in singing “Silent Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” Gabriel Hernandez, Malik Hamilton, Jorge Hernandez and Rodrigo Razo helped create a solemn sound.
“Projects like these are important because what happened in that school wasn’t right,” said William Lindsey, a Gompers seventh-grader, reflecting on the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
“So I just created what came from the heart,” William said of his snowflake, a work of royal purple, pink and gold.
“It’s important for kids to support other kids through their rough times,” said Natalie Ward, an eighth-grader who created a violet snowflake.
Eric Gentry, an eighth-grader, was asked what was most important about this project.
“The little kids — so many brothers and sisters have died,” he said.