Crafton Elementary students send thoughtful messages to Squirrel Hill residents
Abbie Thewes-Martin excitedly showed off the small river rock she painted with a poignant message for Squirrel Hill residents struggling to make sense of the recent Tree of Life tragedy.
“FEAR means Face Everything And Rise,” said Abbie, 10, as she held in her tiny hands the rock that she said she hopes will “brighten someone’s day.”
All 55 fifth-graders at Crafton Elementary School in the Carlynton School District painted messages of hope on rocks during class last week. Their teachers plan to place the rocks throughout Squirrel Hill, in an effort to bring a glimmer of happiness to the Pittsburgh neighborhood in the face of tragedy.
“We just wanted to spread a message that there’s still good people in the world,” fifth-grade teacher Amanda Meyers said.
During the days after the Oct. 27 mass shooting that killed 11 people and injured at least six at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, students came to school asking questions. They wanted to know why it happened and how someone could do something like that.
The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Baldwin Borough, has pleaded not guilty.
“When I first heard about it, I was confused. I didn’t know who did it or why they would do it,” said Rosie Highfield, 10, who created a rock with a clever message — “Orange you glad you found me” — she hopes will bring a laugh to the face of whoever finds it.
“I was just sad that this happened,” she said.
Teachers tried to keep conversations “neutral,” and left explaining the details up to the parents.
Some kids knew everything. Others only knew the basics — that people were hurt and needed help.
“One kid said, ‘I always thought Pittsburgh was a safe place,’” Meyers said. That broke her heart.
Teachers at Crafton Elementary wanted to show students that they could be a part of the good that comes in light of the tragedy.
“We wanted to spread positivity and hope and just brighten someone’s day,” fifth-grade teacher Robin Wenrich said.
Students wrote cards for the Scott Township police officers who were part of a SWAT team that responded to the Tree of Life shooting.
The rocks were another way the youngsters could help.
“We kind of looked at it from the ‘Mister Rogers’ approach,” Meyers said.
Famed Pittsburgher Fred Rogers had put it plainly: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Students at Crafton were eager to help.
“If people were in the hospital, I wanted to go visit them,” Abbie said.
They saw the rocks as a way they could do something.
“We have to help them and make them feel better,” said Maurice Solomon, 10. He thinks the decorated rocks could do just that.
“People need hope,” added Kendel McClure, 10.
Students looked up inspirational sayings online to scribble on their rocks.
For Sarah Loney, 10, though, the message she selected was personal: “Happiness is a choice.”
Her brother, Ethan, died of cancer when he was 3 years old. Sarah was 2 at the time. Her mom always told her that she could still find happiness.
Sarah has kept that phrase in her mind, she said. She knows the people of Squirrel Hill are sad. They’ve lost people they love and she wants to share the phrase that was meaningful to her in hopes it will help others during the difficult time.
“Just so they don’t feel sad anymore,” Sarah said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributor.