Chardon Schools Remains Chardon Strong
March 1, 2017 by Cassandra Shofar

District Chooses Quiet Reflection, Acts of Kindness to Honor Victims of Shooting

We are not defined by a calendar. We are Chardon, born and raised. Defined by consistency in action and the determination to succeed by living the truth and leading the way with dignity. – CHS Principal Doug Murray

“Anniversary” is a tricky word. It is often associated with a positive or joyful event.

So the mere coupling of the words “anniversary” and “tragedy” can almost feel paradoxical.

At least, that has been the case for Chardon Schools, which just passed the five-year mark of the tragic high school shooting that killed three students and wounded three others on Feb. 27, 2012.

“Hearing the word ‘anniversary’ in reference to when a traumatic event occurred, contradicts that notion,” said Ellen Ondrey, communications director for Chardon Schools, Monday. “It’s not unusual for some survivors to experience an increase in distress around the anniversary of a traumatic event, which is commonly known as an ‘anniversary reaction.’”

Ondrey said one thing the district has learned over the last five years is that “everyone’s journey to recovery is uniquely their own.”

“For some, finding private space for personal reflection is more helpful than any scheduled event,” she said, adding this is just one reason the district has chosen to focus more on several projects over the years that facilitate compassion and connection as its way to heal and honor those impacted by the tragedy versus scheduling any one particular event on the anniversary.

“For the last five years, Chardon local schools has focused its efforts on moving forward from the tragic events of 2/27/2012,” Ondrey said. “We believe we best honor the memory of those we lost by cultivating a caring and compassionate school community.”

Many people, including government officials and celebrity Montel Williams, took to social media to express support for the community Monday.

“Thoughts are with the Chardon community today,” tweeted U.S. Congressman Dave Joyce.

Gov. John Kasich tweeted, “Remembering today how @ChardonHS pulled together 5 years ago to get through a very difficult time. Together we are strong.”

Williams, an avid supporter of the schools, said he wished he could be with the Chardon community Feb. 27.

“I couldn’t be more grateful you let me share your journey — you inspire me every day,” he wrote. “Today, I want to challenge you to remember 2-27 not for the horrible day it was, but for the incredible progress you have made since, in fact becoming a beacon of hope to schools who have their own days that will live on in infamy. I want you to remember those you lost, but do so through a new lens — remember them by reminding yourselves how proud they are of you and by recommitting to #OneHeartBeat.”

Some of the projects the school has participated in over the past five years to demonstrate its compassion include Kick It for Cancer, a district-wide kickball fundraising event; a St. Baldrick’s event, which supports childhood cancer research; Project Linus, which involves making blankets for children in need; the Think Kindness shoe drive (Think Kindness is a nonprofit organization based out of Reno, Nev., that inspires youth to change the world through simple acts of kindness); Teens for Jeans Drive for the over one million young people experiencing homelessness in the U.S.; Personal Care Products Collection Drive with United Way Services of Geauga County; and ASAP, a high-school-student-led initiative to mentor younger students on the negative effects of drug use.

The school district also holds an annual “Heart-2-Heart” dance in February to connect with the community, Ondrey said.

Many students were also involved in the fundraising for the Chardon Living Memorial Park, at 220 Basquin Drive, known to residents as the Chalet.

The park is in honor of those who died in the shooting — Daniel Parmertor, Russell King Jr. and Demetrius Hewlin — as well as survivors Nick Walczak, Nate Mueller and Joy Rickers.

The park is also being designed to recognize the cohesion of the community following the tragedy.

It will include a nature trail, outdoor fitness center, children’s play center, an “Echoes of the Heart” monument designed by sculptor Matt Albright and benches and recognition plaques.

The Coach Hall Foundation — founded after the shooting and named for Frank Hall, the former offensive coordinator for the Chardon Hilltoppers who became a community hero when he chased shooter T.J. Lane from the high school’s cafeteria that fateful day — hosted a day-long conference in Mentor Feb. 27 to help school communities learn how to layer protection in their schools and protect their children.

Present were Frank Hall, former Chardon High School Principal Andy Fetchik, and Tom Connick, representing the foundation.

Also presenting were Mark Barden, Paula Fynboth and Lauren Alfred, of Sandy Hook Promise (Sandy Hook Elementary School), the Say Something Program and Know the Signs Program, respectively.

Dr. Shane McCarty, Laura Beth Williams, Kyle Pacque and Dominic Ferrante, of CorFoundation and the AC4P (Actively Caring 4 People) program at Virginia Tech also spoke during the conference, as did Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Kimberly Nagel, from the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for P-20 Safety and Security spoke on school safety plans and expectations and Rep. John Patterson discussed legislative changes for schools that have an impact and influence on school safety.

Chardon High School Principal Doug Murray also reached out to students in a heartfelt address he posted on the Chardon Schools website titled “A Week in Reflection.”

“Character defines the very essence of who we are, where we are and demonstrates the pureness of our choices,” he wrote.

“At Chardon High School, we recognize the beauty of every student and every staff member’s story along with seeing the value of the human spirit,” he wrote. “Our staff emulates compassion and love to the children that they encounter each day. Our staff teaches students to understand the value of developing meaningful relationships and ways to pay their lives forward. These lessons transcend the curriculum to develop young men and women not only for college and careers —but for life.”

Murray said every family has their own story, just as the high school has its own story.

“We are Hilltoppers. As Hilltoppers, we climb higher than others and model with humility our values as a beacon of hope for those that look up to us,” he said. “The paths that we have faced have not been easy. There have been moments of difficulty, moments of sorrow, along with defining moments of integrity.

“We are not defined by a calendar. We are Chardon, born and raised. Defined by consistency in action and the determination to succeed by living the truth and leading the way with dignity,” he continued, adding kindness resonates into every fiber of who Chardon students and staff are.

“It changes us to strive towards being better, it helps us to slow down and really pay attention to who we are and what our purpose in life actually is,” Murray said. “Life is a journey up the side of a mountain, but we are ‘Toppers. We love to live and live to love. As principal, it is important for me to tell you how much that you are loved.”