Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

January 30, 2013

Newtown tragedy focus of student letters

Nicole Dominique
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — Sacred Heart students "raised the standards" this week by writing letters to religious leaders they have never met in Newtown, Conn.

The school took the Catholic Schools Week theme seriously, encouraging integrity, compassion and volunteerism in students.

Sixth-grade teacher Shauna Albert participated in the committee that set the week up, and was happy to put Newtown on the list.

"It's not a big thing we can do," she said, referring to the letters every student in the school wrote to priests and monsignors who have helped the town through the tragedy. "But it's something small to share our faith, to show them we're still thinking about them."

Younger students made cards and drew pictures, adding empathetic phrases, such as "we're praying for you."

Older students with a greater comprehension of the tragedy wrote longer letters, telling the recipients about themselves.

"The chances are we will probably never meet this priest," Albert told the class. "But they're going to get letters from the entire school, letting them know we're thinking about them."

She took the chance to teach her class about proper letter-writing etiquette, complete with greeting, introduction and closing.

The students also chose their own Bible verses to include in the letters.

Student Becca Webster said writing the letter lets those directly affected by the tragedy know that people care.

"We try to get their minds off it a little," said Braylee Marxmann.

Other students looked at the letters from a do-unto-others approach.

"If there was a tragedy here, it's nice to know that someone would help out here," said Natalie Carie.

The administration also intended for the letters to be a way for students of all ages to cope with the tragedy.

The sixth grade worked on drafts Monday and began to type and personalize the letters Tuesday.

Albert said while younger students weren't given many details about the tragedy, it was nice to see that they understood the importance of supporting the Newtown community.

"We really go above and beyond to teach them to serve others before themselves," said Christy Hakman, director of Marketing and Parish Development at Sacred Heart. "With our faith, we always know that good things come out of tragedy."

Tuesday was also the 100th day of school at Sacred Heart, and was celebrated with raffles, special center time and costumes, all centered around the number 100.

Children in kindergarten, first and second grades dressed up as 100-year-olds, wearing glasses, fake facial hair and their idea of elderly outfits.

Sacred Heart will join St. Thomas, Sigel St. Michael and St. Anthony grade and high schools for Mass and activities Wednesday to celebrate Catholic Schools Week. The schools have activities planned all week long.

Nicole Dominique can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 138, or at nicole.dominique@effinghamdailynews.com.