Articulo Winnie Hu. The New York Times. 21/12/12
The New York Times Education Reporter
After the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, part of Norris Hall on the campus was transformed into a
At Columbine High School, a glass atrium glistens in the sunlight.
Inside Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, pastel walls enclose a peace center.
At Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, a flower garden welcomes students.
These spaces were once other things: the second-floor library where two killers completed a rampage that left 12 fellow high school students and a teacher dead; the classrooms where 30 college students and faculty members were gunned down by another student; and the gymnasium where 16 5- and 6-year-old children and their teacher were fatally shot by an intruder.
School officials in Newtown, Conn., said this week that they had not yet begun to discuss the future of Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 first graders and 6 staff members were killed inside. But in the indelible tragedies that came before, school officials and parents were often so haunted by the violence that they sought to dismantle whole sections of buildings, ripping out blood-soaked floors and every last chunk of cinder block from the rooms where the killings took place. And when the spaces were put back together, if they were not razed completely, they often had new layouts and amenities that rendered them nearly unrecognizable — which is more or less the point.
These new spaces were typically culminations of long and painful healing processes for devastated families and communities. School officials and parents say their wounds are still there, though their scars grow a little thicker with each passing year, as the survivors graduate and new students too young to remember what happened take their places.
“A school should not be a memorial,” said Cindy Stevenson, superintendent in Jefferson County, Colo., where school officials and parents rejected the idea of closing Columbine High School after the shooting. “We don’t ever want to forget those children, but you also need to say a school is a living, growing, vibrant place.”
A one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., was demolished just over a week after the 2006 shooting
of 10 girls inside
For now, Sandy Hook Elementary remains a crime scene, a bullet-ravaged shell that has become a worldwide symbol of anguish. The school’s more than 400 students will resume classes in January in a former school nearby that is being painstakingly remade to resemble the one they left behind, down to the exact color of the classroom walls. Even their old desks and chairs are being moved over from Sandy Hook.
“All of our efforts have been focused on healing our children and families and restarting school,” William Hart, a Newtown school board member, wrote in an e-mail, saying, “we have been unable to put any energy into planning for the future of that building.”
He added, “I suspect it may be some time before we can do so.”
Many psychologists say that schools torn apart by violence are confronted by a need to provide some continuity to traumatized students and staff members, and the need to take steps toward moving beyond the tragedy, so it does not come to define them. “It’s a balance,” said Peter Langman, a psychologist and the author of the book “Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.” “I don’t think there’s any one right way to do this.”
Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University, said that research seemed to support efforts by schools to change their buildings after a tragedy, since returning to the same environment can set off terror and anxiety. “It will not help you get over it,” Dr. Kazdin said. “Anything that was associated with it, you want to get rid of.”
So Amish leaders decided to demolish a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa., just over a week after 10 schoolgirls were lined up against a blackboard and shot in 2006. Five of them died.
Herman Bontrager, a local businessman who helped the families of the victims, said parents believed that it would be too traumatic for their children to go back, and others were concerned that the building could become a shrine that drew unwanted attention to their quiet community.
The Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention was established at Virginia Tech in 2008
The students moved to a temporary site nearby while a new building was erected by the men in their community. It was christened the New Hope Amish School, and four of the five survivors of the shooting returned to classes there. “It was definitely a good decision,” Mr. Bontrager said. “They haven’t put the event behind them. They’ve just found a way to live with it.”
Similarly, Dunblane Primary School tore out its gymnasium, the scene of the 1996 attack, and converted it into a flower garden; a whole new gym was built in another spot.
Northern Illinois University debated razing a popular hall that was closed for almost four years after five students were fatally shot in an auditorium in 2008, but later remade the space into an anthropology museum and a classroom equipped with touch-screen computers. “That space has been replaced by a new state-of-the-art learning environment that is completely different,” Paul Palian, a university spokesman, said. “So it’s a way to honor their spirit and commitment to learning.”
In other places, however, tight school schedules and lean budgets have led to more modest changes. Chardon High School in Ohio reopened less than a week after a student opened fire in the cafeteria in February, killing three classmates. The school cleaned up the cafeteria, replaced tables and repainted the wall trim in the school’s colors, red and black.
Andy Fetchik, the Chardon principal, said he had expected students to be reluctant to set foot in the cafeteria. But that was the first place they went. They cried, hugged and wrote tributes on a table placed over a spot where their classmates had fallen.
“They needed to reclaim their space,” Mr. Fetchik said. “If it completely changes, it’s no longer their space; it’s a new space, and it doesn’t give them a chance to grieve.”
Columbine High School was temporarily closed after the April 1999 shootings and its 1,500 students were sent to a nearby school for the remaining weeks before the summer break. Dr. Stevenson, the superintendent, said the community had made it clear that it wanted to keep the school open but that the library had to be removed.
“You couldn’t have asked the children and teachers who had lived through that tragic day to go back to that space,” said Dr. Stevenson, who still remembers “the horror scene.”
The high school’s $2.6 million renovation — the bulk of which was financed through donations — included replacing the library with an atrium featuring a canopy of evergreens and aspens painted on the ceiling. A new library was built on another part of the campus.
Jerzy Nowak, a retired Virginia Tech professor of horticulture whose wife was killed in the 2007 shootings there, said a building that had been the site of carnage could not simply reopen as if nothing had happened.
Dr. Nowak helped lead the effort to create a Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention in 2008 and served as its founding director. He said he spent much of its first year meeting with relatives and friends of those killed, many of whom went to the center as part of their healing process.
“It had to be transformed because otherwise it would remain a symbol of evil,” he said. “Nobody’s reminded that it was a place of tragedy. They don’t feel that. All they feel is the spirit of the transformation, the spirit of the future.”
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