Tallmadge -- Chardon and Tallmadge high schools are both public school districts in small towns, and the administrators of the districts are friendly with one another.

After the deadly shootings at Chardon High School in February of this year, Tallmadge Schools Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said the Tallmadge school community grieved with Chardon.

The news of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., -- also a school district similar to Tallmadge -- Dec. 14, and the fact that he's a parent himself, shook Ferguson "to the core."

The alleged gunman killed 26 people at the school before killing himself, according to news reports.

"It's going to ripple into every corner of that community for a long time," Ferguson said of the tragedy. "So they're certainly in our thoughts and our prayers."

That sentiment reverberated throughout Tallmadge High School as students, staff and community members came together last week to raise money for the families of the victims of the Newtown shootings.

A Christmas tree was raffled during a varsity boys basketball game the night of the shootings, which earned $240. Another $532 was collected through change buckets in classrooms at the high school and members of Student Senate asking for donations during lunch periods. The amount of money collected from members of the community has yet to be counted.

Junior Jacob Brown, an officer on the Executive Board of Student Senate came up with the idea to raise the money, in addition to the group's annual fundraiser and gift donation project for the Haven of Rest Ministries in Akron.

Brown said no official monetary goal was set, "just enough to prove to the families of Newtown that we care. It's our way of showing our support and telling them this was horrible, and you are not alone in grief, and we're trying doing everything we can to help you out."

Jacob, who is traveling to the area to spend Christmas with his father's side of the family, said the families of the victims can use the money to help pay for anything they need, including funeral costs for those who were killed.

His aunt and her boyfriend live in Newtown. From what he has been told, his aunt's boyfriend, a volunteer firefighter, was one of the first responders at Sandy Hook.

"He let the police officers in and drove one of the only survivors to the hospital in Danbury," he said. "He's shaken, as I'm sure all of them are, but he's a strong man. He's getting through it."

Jacob recalls how he learned of the shootings:

"I came home from school, and my mom was pointing at the TV and crying. It was absolutely God-awful what we saw," he said.

To his knowledge, none of his relatives' children were at Sandy Hook at the time.

But his family ties to Newtown aren't the reason he pitched the idea of raising the money.

"Family there just makes it that more personal for me. It was still horrible. I probably would have still said the same thing," he said. "Of course, I think about them every night now."

The high school had moments of silence Dec. 17 and 19 in honor of the victims, and students and staff wore green Dec. 21, one of Sandy Hook's school colors.

Some THS students made cards that will be sent to the families of the victims.

"We have a kind and caring staff and student body at Tallmadge High School, and we grieve deeply for the families so devastated by the Sandy Hook tragedy," Principal Rebecca DeCapua said. "While we know that there are no words or actions that can undo their pain, we hope that our small actions can help them to know that they are embraced by our school community."

Dunbar students focus

on Christmas

Tallmadge Schools' youngest students, who are the ages of many of those who were killed in the shootings, attend Dunbar Primary School.

Ferguson said teachers worked hard last week to focus students' attention on the upcoming holiday.

"Kids are just learning, kids are getting ready for Christmas, doing some Christmas

cards and reading some Christmas stories and doing gingerbread," he said. "So there was a real effort on our staff to create this environment of normal for those young people. That was really a tribute to our folks and how they handled it and also our [students'] families."

Dunbar Principal Courtney Davis read the classic children's book "The Polar Express" to students Dec. 20, followed by a visit from Santa who gave each child a silver bell. In the story, Santa gives a boy a silver bell as only those who "truly believe" can hear the sound of a silver bell.

Students at Dunbar also are crafting snowflakes that will be among many from schools around the country that will decorate Sandy Hook.

After an elementary school guidance counselor researched the topic of how schools should address trauma with young students, the district advised teachers not to bring up the topic of the shootings with their classes as a whole. Instead, teachers were advised to speak with students one-on-one and as needed.

"What the experts will tell you is the less they know about something horrific, the better," Ferguson said about the younger children. "And everyone is going to come into that building in a different place; some parents have shared some, some have shared more, some have watched the news."

He said the school district respects parents' decisions about how much information to share with their children.

"One of the core ideas is to remind kids they're in a safe place and that it was a horrible thing that happened but it's not the norm," he added.

Staff in the other school buildings also were given suggestions for how to help students deal with tragedies, and students were encouraged to speak with school counselors, if necessary.

"It is terrible that I have to teach my students about intruders. It makes me sad how times have changed and what I need to do to keep my students safe since I started my teaching career 26 years ago," said Business and Career Technology teacher Joni Giles, who also serves and Freshmen and Sophomore Class adviser. "It was a very emotional day today for the staff and students. We all pray for those that have been affected by this tragedy."

Email: hschoenstein@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9428