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Originally published December 18, 2012 at 9:17 PM | Page modified December 19, 2012 at 3:39 PM

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Classes to resume for Sandy Hook students next year

The Connecticut students who survived a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School will return to class after the winter break at a school in a neighboring town. Students at other Newtown schools returned to class Tuesday.

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — The Connecticut students who survived a mass shooting at their school will return to class after the winter break at a school in a neighboring town.

Twenty students and six staff members were killed by a gunman on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The Connecticut Post reported Tuesday the school's other students will attend Chalk Hill School in Monroe.

Chalk Hill hasn't been used as a school since June 2011. Volunteers and town officials have been making it suitable for elementary school students.

Monroe Superintendent of Schools James Agostine's office says the school will reopen after Jan. 1, but a date hasn't been set. Newtown school officials will decide.

Monroe police Lt. Brian McCauley says authorities are trying to make sure the school is safe for teachers and students.

Other Newtown students returned to their classrooms Tuesday for the first time since last week's massacre and faced the agonizing task of laying others to rest, as this grieving town wrestled with the same issues gripping the country: violence, gun control and finding a way forward.

Funerals were held for two more of the tiny fallen, a 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl.

The resumption of classes brought a return of familiar routines, something students seemed to welcome as they arrived aboard buses festooned with large green-and-white ribbons — the colors of the stricken elementary school.

"We're going to be able to comfort each other and try and help each other get through this, because that's the only way we're going to do it," said 17-year-old P.J. Hickey, a senior at Newtown High School. "Nobody can do this alone."

Still, he noted: "There's going to be no joy in school. It really doesn't feel like Christmas anymore."

At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, back-to-back funerals were held for first-graders James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, the third and fourth so far and the first of eight to be held in the coming days at the church. Memorial services and wakes were also held for some of the adult victims.

As mourners gathered outside, a motorcade led by police motorcycles arrived for the funeral of little James, who especially loved recess and math and who was described by his family as a "numbers guy" who couldn't wait until he was old enough to order a footlong Subway sandwich.

Traffic in front of the church slowed to a crawl as police directed vehicles into the parking lot. A school bus carrying elementary students got stuck in traffic, and the children, pressing their faces into the windows, sadly watched as the mourners assembled.

Inside the church, James' mother stood and remembered him.

"It was very somber, it was very sad, it was very moving," said Clare Savarese, who taught the boy in preschool and recalled him as "a lovely little boy, a sweet little angel."

The service had not concluded when mourners began arriving for the funeral of Jessica, who loved horses and was counting the years until she turned 10, when her family had promised her a horse of her own. For Christmas, she had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

"We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement.

At a wake for 27-year-old first-grade teacher Victoria Soto, hundreds of mourners, many wearing green-and-white ribbons, stood in a line that wrapped around a funeral home in nearby Stratford.

"Big smile, great eyes, just a wonderful person," Lauren Ostrofsky said of Soto, who was killed as she tried to shield her students from the gunman. "If anyone could be an example of what a person should be today, it's her."

Tensions in the shattered community ran high as the grief of parents and townspeople collided with the crush of media reporting on the shootings and the funerals.

Police walked children to parents waiting in cars to protect them from the cameras. Many parents yelled at reporters to leave their children and the town alone.

At Newtown High School, students in sweatshirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, had mixed reactions. Some waved at or snapped photos of the assembled media horde, while others appeared visibly shaken.

Students said they didn't get much work done Tuesday and spent much of the day talking about the terrible events of last Friday, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza, clad all in black, broke into Sandy Hook Elementary and opened fire on students and staff.

At one Newtown school, students found some comfort from Ronan, an Australian shepherd therapy dog from Good Dog Foundation in New York.

Owner Lucian Lipinsky took the dog to a fifth-grade science and math class where students were having difficulty coping with the tragedy. Most started smiling immediately.

Lipinsky told the students they could whisper their secrets into Ronan's ear.

"It's pretty amazing how a lot of kids will just go whisper in his ear and tell them their secret, and, of course, he doesn't tell anyone," Lipinsky said. "He's a very good dog."

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