A return to routine, if not to normal

Two weeks after massacre in Colorado, classes resume in a borrowed high

The walk from the student parking lot to the main entrance of their new school still feels unfamiliar to the kids from Columbine High.

But as they learn their way around a borrowed campus this week, resuming classes that will never be the way they were, the students who lived through one of the most atrocious days of school violence in US history are taking tiny steps along the pathway back to normalcy.

"Everyone's glad to be back," says Nicole Schlieve, a Columbine junior, on her second day of school at Chatfield Senior High, which is festooned in balloons and posters to greet the newcomers. The simple routine of attending classes is itself healing, she says.

By some student accounts, the travails have pulled Columbine's student body closer, bridging gaps between student clusters that previously kept to themselves.

Not that cliques have disappeared. But students who usually band together - whether "jocks," "brains," or "punks" - are now interacting with other students much more, says Nicole. "People are talking to each other more than they did before. We're just more of a group."

A somber return

But the turn of events that brought these youths to a deeper level of caring for their classmates has also left a palpable anguish. Even as students express hope, it is without a hint of a smile on their faces. And as they walk to and from school under a bright sky, they are perfectly somber: There is no laughter, no trace of typical teen antics.

Of course, some of the students injured in the April 20 rampage cannot yet return to school. There's also the fact that the circle of friends of the two dead gunmen - another 8 to 10 students - were given the option not to return for the rest of the school year, for their own protection, officials said.

To accommodate all 4,000 students who will attend this school until May 27, Chatfield students are taking classes in the morning. At lunchtime, Columbine students arrive for classes that continue through the afternoon.

Rather than standard academics, the focus of classes is on healing now: Students are discussing what happened at Columbine, and how to cope with their emotions. They also spend class time examining ways to prevent school violence.

Another change is the new dress code that bans trench coats. Most students, in fact, are wearing white T-shirts printed with blue, silver, and burgundy ribbons, entwined to form the shape of a heart.

But the hospitality of Chatfield's students - traditional rivals of Columbine - is also generating a spirit of warmth. (Columbine High remains cordoned off as a crime scene.)

"Chatfield has been very cool, very supportive," says Columbine junior Amanda Lamontagne. "They made posters for us, which they have up all over the school. And they made these buttons for us," she says, pointing to a Columbine memorial emblem pinned to her new backpack.

The balloons that line Simms Street, as it approaches Chatfield, are blue, silver, and burgundy - a commingling of the school colors for the two high schools. A banner draped at the entrance reads, "Chatfield welcomes Columbine. We are one."

All Columbine students received new donated backpacks, along with new books, to replace the ones they left behind while escaping the bullet-ridden halls of their school.

Around the neighborhood, welcome banners are displayed in front of tidy subdivision homes. "God be with you, Columbine," reads a sign at the United Methodist Church next to the school. At the entrance to Chatfield, a stone monument has been engraved to honor Columbine students: "To Columbine - We open our doors so you may continue to learn. We open our hearts so that together we may heal."

Impromptu memorials

The period of public mourning, of memorial services, has ended in Littleton, and the media caravan has moved on. Across town at Clement Park, next to Columbine High, a steady stream of visitors from near and far continues to make a pilgrimage to the impromptu shrines of flowers, poems, stuffed toys, prayer candles, and more that spread across acres of the park.

The flowers are mostly wilted, and the ink on posters has been streaked by rain. Clusters of helium-filled balloons are drooping. Soon, the Colorado Historical Society will collect the materials in boxes to save them for a permanent memorial.

For families and friends who lost loved ones, "getting back to normal" requires a complete reorientation of their lives. Even for those Columbine students who witnessed little of the bloodshed and mayhem of April 20, the attainment of normalcy may take more time.

"It's a little bit back to normal, but it's still too soon to feel normal," says Amanda. "It's going to take a while."

Chatfield students likewise continue to take it hard. "It stinks, what happened," says Chrissy Scrivano, a Chatfield student who sits bleakly outside in the brilliant midday sunshine. But like her Columbine peers, she says Chatfield students now have become friendlier and more supportive of one another.

Moreover, the kindness and empathy for fellow students that have blossomed here will remain a permanent feature of the community, Amanda says. "Other high schools might not, but Columbine definitely will stay this way," she says. "Chatfield, too."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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