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A Response to the Newtown Tragedy

December 17, 2012

Throughout the past weekend at St. Andrew’s, I have thought about this letter to you all reflecting on the tragic events that took place in Connecticut on Friday.  The cruelty, desolation and despair associated with this crime against humanity made it difficult to find words of consolation and understanding and love, but as an Episcopal school, St. Andrew’s is called upon to respond.

We live, work and study in a school, a place specifically created and designed for the cultivation of a new generation of national and world citizens and leaders.  Schools throughout the world are sacred spaces, sanctuaries designed to introduce children and young people to the world of inquiry, knowledge, discovery, collaboration, play and creativity.

We all remember our earliest school experience as we separated from our parents, met our first teachers, explored our first classrooms and cloakrooms, pledged allegiance to the flag standing in the corner, brought milk into the classroom for a snack, and learned how to be gracious, polite and respectful to our classmates and teachers.  The elementary school, then, is particularly precious and essential, for it is the introduction, the first bridge for children into the world outside the family; it is the first glimpse and the first impression of how we as adults and as a society view and honor them; it is a child’s introduction to the world they will ultimately inherit and transform.

We all know teachers who work in elementary education, women and men who understand that these early days of learning, community and citizenship form a foundation for everything that follows in our educational system.  If we develop extraordinary elementary school experiences for children, we build a basis for curiosity, creativity, intelligence and good character for a lifetime.

That is why at St. Andrew’s I have studied and admired the work of Kim McKelvey who is the most gifted teacher of small children I know.  She gives her little children love, hope, confidence, voice and affirmation and a place in her school.  It is a place that children will always revere, remember and recreate, even in the fallen world of adulthood.  Every child in the world deserves that school, that teacher, that sense of safety, love, affirmation and joy.

The power and goodness of the elementary school philosophy and mission are precisely why the events of last Friday lacerate our hearts and make us feel such anger, confusion and despair.  In his madness and fury, the killer somehow knew that the way to express contempt, depravity and the sheer emptiness of his being, was to strike at the heart and soul, literally and figuratively, of a community, nation and world.

We at St. Andrew’s mourn the loss of life, hope, sanctuary and safety in the community of Newtown.  We pray for the children, teachers and staff members who died; we pray for those families who grieve and mourn this Christmas season; we send our love and support to all who witnessed, experienced or responded to the unthinkable tragedy of that morning.

These events will spark new national attention on school security, gun control and the identification and treatment of citizens who may be suffering from mental illness or despair that can, in turn, lead to violence.  Over the past 16 years as St. Andrew’s has witnessed school shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Newtown, we develop and review emergency procedures, lock-down drills and coordination with local, state and policy authorities.  We will continue to review and practice all our particular programs and approaches to campus security.

But we at St. Andrew’s will continue to do more than secure our campus and drill emergency procedures; we will continue to teach, inspire, mentor, affirm and assert, powerfully and constantly, that we as a school community can do no more important work than honor and protect children.  We will live in the fallen world and oppose the forces of violence, evil and despair with every ounce of passion and energy we have.  Each Tuesday, St. Andrew’s students visit elementary and middle schools to teach, mentor and support young people.  These community service commitments represent a powerful response to this tragedy, and I call on all St. Andreans to make the cultivation, inspiration and mentoring of children in America and the world our most urgent priority.  Our faith, our mission gives us courage to defy, reject and defeat the madness.  That is precisely what the heroic principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School did when she confronted the shooter and refused to cower before his barrage of violence.  In her spirit, in the spirit of these children, let us fight for the innocence, joy and power of childhood.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. julie holderness permalink
    December 17, 2012 7:09 pm

    Thank you Tad. Julie A. Holderness (parent of Julie H. Shaw)

  2. Georgia Zaiser permalink
    December 18, 2012 12:17 pm

    Powerful words..thank you.

    • Cabell Tennis permalink
      February 2, 2013 3:16 pm

      Hyde and I are so glad of your example.


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