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WHS speech students can transport an audience

Erica Dischino / Tribune Sophomore Rachel Lanning, a Willmar Senior High School speech team member competing this weekend in Omaha, acts out picking up a child Monday while practicing her emotional prose performance written by a teacher who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 2012.

WILLMAR — Rachel Lanning can transport an audience from a Willmar Senior High School classroom to a different time and place in her prose interpretation.

Using words written by a Connecticut teacher, Rachel takes onlookers to a tiny bathroom in the back of an elementary school classroom. Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, to be specific — the day 20 young children and 6 staff members died in a mass shooting at the school in Newtown, Connecticut.

The presentation begins with the teacher's description of the beautiful, perfect day it was, illustrated by Rachel's soft voice and dreamy smile.

Her body language and voice change with the first shot at the entrance of the school. As shots continue, Rachel trembles with every muscle in her body and whispers as she frantically moves with trembling fingers to squeeze 16 students and herself into a tiny bathroom.

She crouches down halfway and tells her students to be very quiet. "There are bad guys out there, and we have to wait for the good guys," she says.

Her screams pierce the classroom as she describes the sound of colleagues begging for their lives.

The presentation continues through the wait until police knock on the door, and the teacher and her students are led out of the school away from the bodies in the hallway.

When she finishes, Rachel is red-faced and breathless while coaches and teammates applaud. The coaches point out the physical toll such an emotional presentation can take on a person.

"It feels like I did a marathon when I'm done," Rachel said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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