Newtown Inches Forward After School Massacre

Except for Sandy Hook Elementary, schools are open in Newtown, Conn. Last week's deadly shooting has the town reeling. A gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

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In Newtown, Connecticut, Sandy Hook Elementary remains closed. But other schools are open. Today is actually the second day back for students in the wake of last week's shootings that killed 20 children and six adults. This is a community that is taking its first steps towards normalcy, as NPR's Zoe Chace reports.

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: There is nothing regular about school this week. Sure, the same school bus pulls out in front, and Nick Eislie gets on.

NICK EISLIE: I'm like the first one on the bus, so like my bus driver - I've had since I was in Sandy Hook school.

CHACE: He's 15 now.

EISLIE: So he like - he's like hugging all the parents. And like they're like coming on the bus to give hugs and everything.

CHACE: Sweet, right? Well, 15-year-old boys are still 15-year-old boys.

EISLIE: And that kind of - I don't really have that much patience, so - it's slow. And a lot of hugs and love. It's really annoying. Because I forgot my headphones, so I was like, ah, just go to school. But it's sad seeing all that. So yeah, it's sad.

CHACE: What it is is confusing. Such a weird mix here of back to normal while nothing is the same. For instance, once you roll up to high school, the fleet of TV trucks, police at the foot of the parking lot, and of course the memorial stuff - even at the high school there are balloons, American flags, teddy bears, flowers. Once inside, it's still new, still different.

EISLIE: Beginning of the day, we had a 15 minute assembly with like everybody in the school in one gym, which kind of got me, because it's like that's not good for safety. You know what I mean? So I don't know. I was thinking about that. Like what?

CHACE: That's weird. You wouldn't have thought about that before, right?

EISLIE: Yeah.

CHACE: The principal told the kids how well protected they are today. And indeed lots of security precautions at every school in the district. Then there were grief counselors to see, dogs to pet. Kids mostly colored and talked. And they got to see their friends and their teachers. Marina DeThomas goes to middle school.

MARINA DETHOMAS: It was really good, because like - it was nice to be back with everyone. It was like some people were still really upset. But the teachers were really nice, and they were trying to like make everything feel better.

CHACE: There is one school that won't go back to any sort of routine for a while -Sandy Hook Elementary. Those kids will be moving into another school, probably after the winter break. And they want to see each other, it seems, like the bigger kids get to. The kindergartners were supposed to have their holiday party this week. So one of the parents, Karen Dryer, figured let's do it anyway. Even with no school.

KAREN DRYER: Another parent and I started a phone chain, felt we needed to get the students and the teachers together.

CHACE: At the end of a day where nothing seems normal, there is a place where you can find kids being kids. Like you're used to seeing.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

CHACE: This rec center - the NYA, it's called - is privately owned. But Peter D'Amico, the guy who runs it, threw it open to every kid in Newtown for free. The food's all donated. The basketball court's full of kids, so is the soccer field. And then these kids, they're just running around.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Simon, Ethan and Jack, the sickest kids.

CHACE: You guys having fun?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Well, yeah, the NYA's a good place to hang.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Yes, it is.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Unintelligible) a good cause.

CHACE: Ethan's dad walks up. Jeff Tousiant.

JEFF TOUSIANT: You have a ride. Your dad's coming? All right. OK.

CHACE: It feels regular. To the kids maybe. But it's hard on the parents.

TOUSIANT: They are happy. They are. And that's - you know, that's the whole point of being with them, you know, and put them back the way they were as best we can. And they'll never be the same, but at the same time they're resilient.

CHACE: Somehow even the 12-year-olds can keep the old lives and the new ones in their heads at the same time.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #4: Shout out to Sandy Hook School. I went there. Great place. Great place.

CHACE: Zoe Chace, NPR News.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #5: This is Newtown, the coolest town in Connecticut.

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