The connection between the beginning of a new school year and Labor Day is for most of us a calendar coincidence. Both milestones are worthy of fanfare and commemoration, but the link between the two seems largely a matter of timing. A report released last week by the New Haven-based public policy research group Connecticut Voices for Children suggests, however, that the state’s labor picture and our collective aspirations for schoolchildren are directly connected. Without better access to “high quality” public education leading to higher education and job training opportunities, current trends of soaring youth unemployment and wage disparity along racial and ethnic lines in the state will continue to degrade the entire state’s economic outlook, according to the report.
It is a paradox of human relations that the ones we hold closest to our hearts thrive when we loosen our grip. Given what we know about child development and education, it is easy for parents to see the sense of it. But Tuesday morning, as children headed out to the bus stops, this small “letting go” for the coming school year may have, for many, proved to be a most difficult moment of surrender. Newtown is no longer a town where people can find consolation by telling themselves that things always turn out for the best. That kind of naïveté requires a level of trust in fate that just doesn’t exist in this place anymore.
Just nine people scattered themselves throughout the rows of chairs set up in the C.H. Booth Library’s meeting room August 15 for the first of three scheduled “focus groups” designed to assess the community’s views on short- and long-term change at the library. The sessions may seem like the routine stock-taking exercises common to most public institutions in times of transition, but for some of those few who showed up last week, the invitation to weigh in on the direction of the library seemed particularly urgent and relevant. While the focus groups are invited to think about the future, it was clear that a more current shuffle of library equipment and personnel was on their minds.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This, simply stated, is Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which explains why when something exerts a force on something else, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. This past week, we found ourselves thinking about Newton and Newtown simultaneously as we witnessed two separate events in town: Seussical: The Musical staged at Newtown High School over the weekend, and the delivery and dedication of the Rock of Angels memorial monument, conceived by a Florida man and created by volunteers in his home state of Maine.
The nonprofit Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) released a report on Monday that praised the state for having “one of the country’s most extensive arrays of children’s mental health evidence-based practices delivered in home and community settings.” Building a system of quality mental health care services for Connecticut’s children has taken the commitment and significant investments of both the public and private sectors. The only problem is that most of the children of the state cannot get access to those services.
The organizers of The Great Newtown Reunion, which took place on July 27 on the grounds of the Fairfield Hills Campus, spent months putting together a first-ever event that had at its heart, paradoxically, tradition. Getting together — the object of every reunion — has become an automatic impulse for Newtowners since the tragic massacre at the Sandy Hook School on December 14. As we saw at the event Saturday, it has turned out to be an impulse strong enough to drive people back to town from the far corners of the country and beyond. They came to honor a tradition among the people of this community: live here your whole life, or move in then move on — either way, this place will always be your hometown.
The interstate signs for Exit 10 say “Newtown, Sandy Hook,” two now-famous names that will catch the attention of even the most road-addled thru-traveler. The signs may as well say, “This is the place!” Throw the utilitarian inducements of the Mobil gas station and The Blue Colony Diner into the proffer, and it is no surprise that Newtown now has a steady stream of strangers pulling off the highway, for gas, food, and curiosity. The volunteers at the Sandy Hook firehouse at Riverside Road and Dickinson Drive, and the residents of Crestwood Drive in Sandy Hook are by now used to seeing vehicles with out-of-state plates trying to make their way to the closest vantage points at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The empty building has been fenced off and behind barriers for months, but people keep coming; they want to see the school.
Town crews were out early this week painting the speed bumps on Queen Street school-bus yellow, to raise the visibility of the raised pavement at five spots along the length of the popular thru-road between the town’s commercial center and Wasserman Way. The street is distinctly less popular these days. The “traffic calming devices” in the road are not having a calming effect on the frustration levels of drivers, who must alternately accelerate and brake along the short unimpeded interstices as they prepare to clear one bump after another. As lovely as the scenery is on this half-mile Queen Street steeplechase, many motorists without a lot of time on their hands are taking their vehicles and their chances on the traffic- and hazard-intense South Main Street from the center of town to points south and east.
An offense against humanity of the scope and emotional impact of the 12/14 massacre at the Sandy Hook School raises a succession of questions that never seems to end. None of the answers are easy to come by, even the empirical ones that the law enforcement community is seeking with its protracted investigation. Loss, grief, and the uncertain and sometimes tragic nature of the human condition inevitably raise eternal questions that lie at the heart of faith and life’s purpose. Out of this daunting mix of imponderables, however, a question has arisen that Newtown is perfectly suited to answer: What is a school?
“Sandy Hook” was written in for June 14 in the daily planners of countless news editors and producers: a six-month reminder. Time for reflection. Time to take stock. Time to raise the profile of Newtown again. But here in Newtown, people wonder what it would be like to have to be reminded of the tragic events of that December day — to have to pencil something in on a calendar as if the date could escape our memory for a day, or even for an hour.
There is a continuity of experience in this town from that December day that rises above the accumulating forgetfulness in a world of distractions. Innumerable connections made and sealed person to person, family to family, even stranger to stranger have built a bridge, leading the community to this date and to every date on every calendar page we can now imagine for our future. All of it is experience borne of that day; all of it impelled by compassion and hope; all of it embodied in the numeric shorthand we have adopted: 12/14...