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Sandy Hook Elementary Students Go Back To Class For First Time Since Shooting

District Replicates Newtown Feel Inside Monroe's Chalk Hill Middle School
A sign welcoming children from Sandy Hook Elementary school sits on the road in Monroe, Connecticut on January 3, 2013. (credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

A sign welcoming children from Sandy Hook Elementary school sits on the road in Monroe, Connecticut on January 3, 2013. (credit: Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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Tragedy In Newtown

MONROE, Conn. (CBSNewYork) — Classes resumed Thursday for Sandy Hook Elementary students for the first time since a gunman killed 20 of their classmates and six adults last month in Newtown.

With Sandy Hook still designated as a crime scene, classes were held at the former Chalk Hill Middle School in nearby Monroe.

Signs of encouragement for the community — some reading “Welcome. We love you” — were put up for students to see on their way to school.

“The buses arrived on time. The kids all got off the bus. A lot of them were happy to see their friends they hadn’t seen in a while.  They were excited about the new school.  They were brought in, they were all brought together as a class for the first time since the tragedy,” Monroe Police Lt. Keith White told reporters, including CBS 2’s John Slattery.

The school is for grades K-4. Most of the students arrived by bus, but parents also were welcome to be near their children for the first day of class. School officials took great care to replicate the classrooms moving in the children’s old desks and backpacks.

Teachers also took pictures of their old classrooms to replicate them and workers brought in furniture, supplies and decorations to make students feel at home.

“A return to normal community activities, while difficult, helps promote healing,” Superintendent Janet Robinson said in a letter written to parents posted on the school’s website.

Handmade paper snowflakes from around the globe and green ribbons filled Chalk Hill to remind students the world is thinking of them as they head back to class.

A sign reads 'Welcome We Love You' beneath a sign pointing to the location of Chalk Hill School, which has been refurbished and renamed Sandy Hook Elementary School on January 3, 2013 in Monroe, Connecticut. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A sign beneath a sign pointing to the location of Chalk Hill School on January 3, 2013 in Monroe, Connecticut. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“The children are coming in, they are so excited to see their teachers,” Robinson said. “It won’t be a heavy curriculum, but they need to do the kinds of things that are important to kids and have a normal routine.”

The school’s pet turtle, “Shelley,” was also on hand to greet students as they return, 1010 WINS’ Al Jones reported.

On Wednesday, students and parents were given a tour at an open house.

WCBS 880’s Sean Adams reports

“The gymnasium has been the biggest thrill,” said Lt. White. “As they come through, they light up to see such a big area now to have gym class and run around in.”

Staff is also working to make students feel safe. Officers guarded the building and will be stopping approaching vehicles and demanding identification.

“I think right now it has to be the safest school in America,” White said.

Officials were trying to find a balance between the police presence and a learning environment.

“We don’t want them to think that this is a police state,” White said. “We want them to know that this is a school and a school first — a place where they come to learn, enjoy their friends and grow up.”

“It’s time to get back to business and anxiety is kicking in for everybody,” added parent John Eisele. “I think the kids are probably more ready than we are.”

Though there may never be closure, many say coming back to class is an important step toward healing. Robinson said mental health counselors will be available for anyone who needs them.

Still unresolved is the fate of the old school, which remains a crime scene.

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