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Wednesday
Apr032013

Exclusive: Newtown Teacher on Mission to Spread Compassion

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- As a shooter walked the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, a first grade teacher named Kaitlin Roig raced her 15 students out of sight into a bathroom.  She virtually stacked them one on top of the other, and as gunfire was heard, told them they must be quiet.

"I said there are bad guys out there now and we need to wait for the good guys," Roig told ABC News.

Just hours after the shooting, Roig sat down in an exclusive interview with ABC News, recalling the moments she protected the children and comforted them at a time when they all needed it most.

"I said to them, I said I need you to know that I love you all very much," Roig said.  "I thought that was the last thing they were ever going to hear.  I thought we were all going to die."

And now, almost four months later, Roig said she starts each day with a new thought from the principal who lost her life.

"I can," Roig said.  "Which actually, and I haven't gotten permission to use this, but, my principal, Dawn Hochsprung, who passed, her mantra in life was, 'I can.  We can.  You can, because we can.'  And I just hold that close to my heart that I can.  My kids can.  We can.  We can get through this.  We can come out on the other side.  We can learn from this.  We can be stronger.  I can, so I just keep telling myself that."

Roig is still teaching the same students she sheltered through that tragedy.  She said her students don't ask her about the events that unfolded that day, but things come up occasionally.

"Noises are really hard for them, understandably so," Roig said.  "Because obviously on that day, the noises that they heard were so loud, and so scary, that noises are difficult."

For Roig, there are questions that remain, but will never be answered.

"Why?  Why?  I just -- innocent lives, no reason, whole lives in front of them, gorgeous, little angels," Roig said.  "And that will never be answered.  Can't be.  There's no reason."

For this elementary school teacher, the lives of those who were lost are the ones she chooses to remember, and not the name of the shooter.

"I prefer not to ever mention that name," Roig said.  "I'd rather choose to honor the lives that were lost."

After the shooting, President Obama quoted from ABC News' exclusive interview with Roig, and invited her to the State of the Union.  Though she attended and found the whole experience to be surreal, Roig said she chooses to stay clear of policy fights and politics.

"Something that grew out of that day -- that the world, not just our nation, but the world was sending things to our school and to my class specifically and my kids had everything -- teddy bears, cupcakes," she said.  "And I said, 'I need to take this time to teach my students that when you get, you have to give.'  Because that's what ultimately makes our world a better place."

The first grade teacher has decided to create a human lesson.  She has a new website called Classes 4 Classes.

The goal of the organization is to teach every child in America to have a genuine interest in the wellbeing of others, by providing a platform through which to actively engage them in social curriculum.  By allowing students to choose whom they want to help and how, Classes 4 Classes gives nearly every class the opportunity to help others, according to the website.

Roig said she hopes it will create a ripple effect of kindness.  Teachers can go to the site to post messages about classrooms in need.  It can be anything from a cupcake to an iPad.  The class that receives the help, helps another.  So it continues, on and on, and on.

"When we're able to care for one another freely and learn that it's better to give than to receive -- and to truly learn that," Roig said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio