JES makes angels for families of shooting victims

Published 5:37 pm Monday, February 11, 2013

School angels: Jemison Elementary School teachers and students created framed angels to send to Newtown, Conn., where a deadly shooting killed 26.

Jemison Elementary School is located more than 1,000 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a shooting in December 2012 resulted in the deaths of 26 children and adults.

The distance between the two schools resembles the distance that exists for outsiders looking in on the incident—it’s difficult to fathom what the victims and their families have endured.

But the distance was not a concern for JES second-grade teacher Denise Scarbrough when she decided to organize a project involving her students and co-workers connecting with the families of the Sandy Hook students and faculty members lost in the shooting.

Scarbrough said the idea for what she is calling the “Paper Angel Project” came to her shortly after the day of the shooting and during an evacuation drill at JES.

“While we’re doing this drill, I felt like it just tied us together in a special way,” Scarbrough said.

As she brainstormed how she and her students could help, Scarbrough thought of the paper angels her class makes nearly every year at Christmastime and decided she could turn it into a gesture of sympathy for the victims’ families and friends in Newtown.

Word of Scarbrough’s project spread quickly and elicited support from other JES teachers, schools and community leaders.

Scarbrough said Jemison Mayor Eddie Reed and Chilton County Schools Superintendent Dave Hayden are among those who contributed funds to the project, along with Jemison High, Jemison Middle and numerous teachers who donated their money or leftover classroom fundraiser money to cover the cost of supplies and frames for all of the angels from Framin’ Shoppe in Hoover.

“For the most part, it came out of people’s pockets,” Scarbrough said. “I wanted it to be a community effort. It just caught on and became more than I thought it would.”

For the past two months, Scarbrough, her students and fellow teachers have constructed 26 paper angels memorializing each fallen student and faculty member.

Scarbrough and Linda McKinney co-wrote poems found at the bottom of each angel inside the frames, and all who made an angel were asked to write their names on the backs of the frames.

Teachers were invited to include personal messages to the families if they so chose.

“That’s the hardest part,” Scarbrough said. “Everybody has commented, ‘I don’t know what to say.’”

She gained clearance from JES principal Louise Pitts and all her students’ parents prior to beginning the project.

She approached the project delicately with her students by asking them to make angels and letting their parents know they could explain the reasons behind the angels and details of the incident as much as they thought necessary.

“We wanted it to be a parental decision,” Scarbrough said.

Scarbrough said she plans to e-mail Newtown’s superintendent of education at the same time that she ships the angels Tuesday to let him or her and the families know to expect the angels’ arrival on or around Valentine’s Day.

“Hopefully, it’s going to give them this moment of comfort and let them know that people everywhere are praying for them,” Scarbrough said.