North Hills students participate in Snowflake project

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

Students of North Hills Senior High School, along with clients of First Niagara Bank on McKnight Road in Ross Township, took part in a recent national campaign to construct handmade paper snowflakes for students of Sandy Hook Elementary as they returned to classes after the recent mass shooting.

The snowflakes were supposed to provide a supportive welcome back and “winter wonderland” for the Sandy Hook students, according to Anthony Basilone, branch manager for the bank.

Sandy Hook students now are back at their school in Newtown, Conn., which for several weeks was considered a crime scene after 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza killed 20 students, six staff members and then himself last month.

First Niagara's regional manager for western Pennsylvania, Tom Fontana, heard about the snowflake idea, which was announced in part by the Connecticut PTSA, Basilone said. So at a December meeting Fontana requested all the branches in Western Pennsylvania, which covers Washington County to Erie, take part.

“We had to help in some way,” Basilone said.

As clients at the First Niagara Bank on McKnight Road, North Hills Area High School teachers Sue and Brayton Batson heard about the bank's project and offered to get their students to help in the effort.

Approximately 200 students in the Batsons' chemistry, physics and astronomy classes and fellow teacher Peter Candreva's physics classes made snowflakes, said Brayton Batson, of Avalon.

He estimated they made approximately 300 paper snowflakes, with some students making more than one.

Basilone said his branch shipped three boxes of snowflakes last week to the Newtown Public School District.

“What we did is probably a miniscule help toward the kids — but anything to help them out,” said Basilone, of Ross Township.

The North Hills' teachers one requirement was that their students make “scientifically accurate” snowflakes, Brayton Batson said.

As part of their science courses, students often are assigned to make snowflakes to study their crystal structure. Because a real snowflake always has six points, Brayton Batson, 55, said students had to learn to fold a paper into thirds so they could cut a true model.

“It's a lot more challenging than people think,” Brayton Batson said. “It really is a taxing mental exercise to pull off the six points.”

Some students got pretty creative with it, including junior Abbey Majetich, who figured out how to cut the words dream, hope, love and peace into some of her snowflakes.

Her intent was to assure the Sandy Hook students that “they feel peaceful and loved and that we still care about them,” said Majetich, 17, of Ross Township.

Basilone, 29, said that Fontana also requested regional bank employees to pay $5 to wear jeans on a recent Friday. All the money they raised will go to the Newtown school district.

Natalie Beneviat is a freelancer writer for Trib Total Media.

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