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Bronx high schoolers familiar with gun violence send letters



Teens from New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities empathize with slaughter survivorsA bus traveling from Newtown, Conn., to Monroe stops in front of 26 angels along the roadside on the first day back to  classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School last Thursday.


A bus traveling from Newtown, Conn., to Monroe stops in front of 26 angels along the roadside on the first day back to classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School last Thursday

As Sandy Hook Elementary School children made an emotional return to classes in a new building Thursday–three weeks after the massacre–they received some comfort in letters from Bronx students with firsthand knowledge of gun violence.

Teenagers from the New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities in Marble Hill expressed their sympathy and sorrow over the horrendous shooting that killed 20 kids and six women staffers in the school in the Norman Rockwell-esque town of Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14.

“I know you will be scared for a long time. I have experienced loss of loved ones because of gun violence,” wrote one 10th-grader in a heartfelt message. “I’m devastated by what happened. When I saw the news my heart broke into small pieces.”

The letters of love were spearheaded by English teacher Chris Boucher, who grew up in Wilton, Conn., roughly 20 miles from Newtown.

“Newtown and the Bronx may as well be on different planets, but this is the moment that people rise above it,” said Boucher, 31. “Some of these students really struggle with writing, and they made these beautiful, heartfelt connections.

“I told them, ‘Even if you’re never going to meet these people, the fact that you reached out helps restore a small part of someone’s faith in humanity after something so terrible.’”

Boucher’s mother, a state senator in Connecticut, delivered the letters.

Guirny Ocean, 15, said pouring his heart out on paper helped him - especially after losing friend and football teammate Kurt Lawrence in 2011. The 17-year-old went to a house party and was fatally shot in the chest.

“It has really affected me,” Occean said of his friend’s death. Writing letters to Sandy Hook students “was a way to let them know they’re not alone,” he added. “We support them.”

Eugene O’Donnell, professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said people perceive violence differently when it’s more prevalent in their communities.

“People often flee to suburban areas to get out of perceived dangerous areas,” he said. “Whereas city people might just process it and say, ‘Hey, the world’s a dangerous place, you can’t be safe anywhere for sure.’”

O’Donnell said adding security in schools can actually make kids feel unsafe and unsettled.

“I think it’s a mistake to turn schools into armed camps and create a fortress environment,” he said. “In the Bronx, the schools are safe. There are some exceptions to that, but kids are not being killed in New York City.”

New Visions is one of six smaller schools in the sprawling John F. Kennedy campus building, which has three metal detectors and nearly two dozen school safety officers.

“It’s one thing to have violence in the streets - it’s another to have violence in schools,” said principal Seth Lewis Levin.

“Many families send their kids to our school because they feel it’s a safe place.”


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