ALBUQUERQUE – Stacks of roughly 6-inch by 4-inch notes spilled onto tables in an Eisenhower Middle School science classroom – the colorful drawings and stickers contrasting with the black tabletops.
Some of the letters from the Albuquerque school had the outline of the state of Texas with “El Paso strong” written across the front. Others were adorned with rainbows and hearts.
Despite the colorful exteriors, the cards represent a serious message of solidarity after a mass shooting earlier this year in El Paso.
An Aug. 3 shooting at a Walmart in the Texas city left 22 dead and about two dozen people injured. Many shoppers were buying supplies for back to school.
Eisenhower launched the letter-writing project in response, sending handmade cards to five elementary and middle schools in El Paso.
The idea was born from staff and parent brainstorming in the wake of the shooting. After that, the children jumped on board, constructing the cards during a 30-minute period that is set aside in the week to address student-related issues.
Lynda Hahn, a seventh grade science teacher at Eisenhower Middle School, said about 850 children participated, which resulted in upward of 700 cards.
Students hope the letters show friendship from afar and encouragement to their fellow students in Texas.
“I feel like if I were in that position, I would want someone to tell me it was going to be OK,” said Riley Padilla, 12.
McKenna Davis, 12, wanted the El Paso students to know they weren’t alone.
“We’re here for you,” Davis said about the messaging in her card.
The handwritten notes, scrawled on postcards and note cards, reflected messages of community and forward-looking attitudes.
“I may not know you but that doesn’t matter. I hope you’re having a great day,” one card read.
“I know you might be sad right now but I hope after you read this you feel a little bit better,” another wrote.
While the focus was positivity, it was a tough project – the subject matter heavy, though not foreign.
Hahn said when she introduced her class to the project last month everyone had already heard about the shooting.
They listen to the news; they talk.
In an online newsletter, Albuquerque Superintendent Raquel Reedy highlighted the work of the Eisenhower students, noting the card-making happened during evacuation and active shooter drill time.
“The students at Eisenhower created the compassionate cards during their advisory class on a day that fell between mandatory evacuation and active shooter drills. The cards didn’t have to mention the shooting; it was on everyone’s mind. That’s our reality, and so we deal with it,” she wrote.
Hahn said students are aware of mass shootings in the country and the prevalence in schools.
“I asked my students, ‘How many of you are seriously scared of a mass shooting?’ Every single one of them raised their hand,” she said.
It’s especially on students’ radar as student-led gun violence protests and rallies made national and local waves after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year.
Davis echoed the science teacher, saying the worry does weigh on her.
But the cards were a way to refocus and help despite that climate.
Hahn said every student volunteered to be a part of the effort.
Jared Blum, 12, said it has been emotional.
“I watched it on the news, I felt really devastated,” he said on learning about the El Paso shooting.
“It was hard for us to do at first,” he said.
Nonetheless, he felt it was important to do.
“This is such a terrible thing for them to go through, and I think it’s good to have that kind of support especially from strangers,” he said.
In an age when texts and emails are the go to, students felt handwritten letters were a more sincere gesture.
Quentin Maes, 12, highlighted the effort and time that goes into writing a “snail mail” note.
“There’s a lot more thought going into a letter,” he said.
Hahn said she emphasized to the students that the cards should focus on compassion and caring.
After she listened to students talk about the project, she was inspired and, at times, choked up when she saw the empathy and understanding of the children.
“To see that empathy, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” she trailed off, adding that it was poignant to see the project resonate with them.
Eisenhower used funding from its Jennifer Riordan “Sparkle” Fund grant – a $1,000 award presented last month – to help cover postage.
The grant was designed to foster acts of kindness, created in honor of the Albuquerque businesswoman who was killed in a plane accident last year.
Eisenhower hopes the cards are just that – an act of kindness in a 6-inch by 4-inch package in the aftermath of tragedy.