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How Stratford Honored a Sandy Hook Hero

Victoria Soto will forever be embedded into the fabric of Stratford, Conn.

The new elementary school to replace Stratford Academy Honeyspot School will be named Victoria Soto School, in honor of the fallen Newtown teacher from Stratford. (Credit: Contributed and staff photos)
The new elementary school to replace Stratford Academy Honeyspot School will be named Victoria Soto School, in honor of the fallen Newtown teacher from Stratford. (Credit: Contributed and staff photos)
By Patch Local Editor Jason Bagley.

Through the hallways of a new elementary school to be named in her honor. Above the woodchips of a colorful playground that bears her name. On the route of a local road race created to raise money for aspiring educators.

These are the places in Stratford – among countless others around the country and world – where the heroic story of slain Newtown teacher Victoria Soto will undoubtedly be shared.

Over the past year, the town has rallied behind one of its own. Soto, a 2003 graduate of Stratford High School, was among the six educators and 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.

Faced with the unthinkable, Soto, like her fellow educators that fateful day, acted heroically. And in the days and months after the tragedy, the story of how Soto protected her students, selflessly giving her own life, has circled around the globe.

It’s also inspired many to act to preserve that courage, especially in Soto’s hometown of Stratford, which is 20 miles south of Sandy Hook.

“Our family would like to extend a sincere ‘thank you’ to the Stratford community, for their support since the horrific events of Dec. 14,” said Soto’s mother, Donna Soto.

Fitting tribute for a good soul
In January, Stratford's Town Council voted unanimously to name a new K-2 school on the campus of Stratford Academy “Victoria Soto School.” The recommendation came from Mayor John A. Harkins.

“There (are) certain things you can do to honor someone and I think this was a fitting tribute not only to Victoria but to the family,” said Harkins, adding that the Soto family endorsed the idea before it appeared in front of the Town Council.

Soto interned at Sandy Hook School for two years before advancing to a full-time first-grade teacher. Last fall, her profile on the school website had read: “This is my third year teaching at Sandy Hook School! I absolutely love teaching first grade!”

“I sensed she was a leader, a good person, a good soul,” Harkins said of Victoria, reflecting on his talks with her family in the weeks after the tragedy.

The mayor said a memorial is planned at the new elementary school to be named in Soto’s honor. He said one of Soto’s sisters recommended recreating an image of Soto holding hands with students in a circle.

“It’s got to be something that they want,” Harkins said. “I’d rather have the idea come from them (than the town).”

Construction on Victoria Soto School is expected to begin next spring. It was delayed this summer after designs needed to be modified to accommodate the flood plan.

A lasting legacy throughout town
Soto had a particular love of flamingos. And no more is that evident than in a playground that bears her name at Stratford’s Longbrook Park.

An organization called the Sandy Ground Project constructed and debuted the pink-and-green playscape over the summer. It's complete with flamingos “guarding the way,” Donna Soto said.

A few months later, in November, more than 2,000 runners and walkers participated in the inaugural “Vicki Soto 5K,” held in the Lordship section of Stratford.

The event raised more than $70,000 for the Vicki Soto Memorial Fund, portions of which will go toward creating education scholarships at Stratford and Bunnell high schools for students looking to pursue a career in teaching.

Then there’s the memorial road, “Victoria Soto Way,” approved by the town to run alongside North Parade Street, which is the road in front of Soto’s alma mater Stratford High. A dedication ceremony is expected early next year.

“It’s heartwarming that a community comes together not only in good times but in bad times,” Harkins said. “The people of Stratford are great. The outpouring of support has been incredible.”

“Vicki's presence is missed every minute of every day,” her mother said. “Her sparkling blue eyes, her beautiful smile, her zest for life and her love of her family.

“She was the perfect daughter, best sister, cousin and loyal friend to those who were lucky enough to have known her. As we approach this first anniversary we want to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers helping us through this extremely difficult time.”

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