Hard work from staff, volunteers, and prayers from the community payed off Tuesday when three days of cleaning and patching up Benton Middle School saw students return to class.
On Jan. 11, the roof was ripped off the sixth grade wing, and the school was flooded by rains and the sprinkler system. The National Weather Service said straight line winds estimated at 105 mph are to blame.
The sixth grade wing is blocked off from student access. The library and front office are too, as those areas took in water and are still drying out.
At the start of the school day, Benton Middle School Principal Kyle Machen, Assistant Principal Jennifer Burris, and the school staff brought the sixth and seventh graders together at the gym to talk about changes on campus. Then students went to class with additional instructions from their teachers.
Burris noted that seeing the difference on campus from the destruction early Saturday morning to Tuesday morning is overwhelming.
“To see what it was like Saturday morning at 6 a.m. to this morning, I feel absolutely blessed,” she said.
Burris added that some of the faculty where emotional when they saw their students.
“We had a couple of teachers that were emotional walking those students into to a modular building. They said just to see their kids’ smiling faces this morning melted them,” she said.
Her focus was on keeping the faculty’s moral up.
“They really pulled together and supported each other yesterday just trying to get everyones classrooms ready and re-decorated so it felt like their new home. They really pulled together and I could not thank them enough,” said Burris.
Lily McDonald and Julia Horton, both sixth graders whose classrooms where effected by the devastation, say they were both sad to hear what happened to the school and their teachers’ classrooms, but their teachers’ enthusiasm Tuesday morning made them feel much better.
“I just learned today that I was going to be in a different class. I was actually really sad when I found out about it. But, then I knew everything was going to be okay because I heard all of the teachers and workers were working really heard on it,” said Horton.
McDonald added, “When we heard about it, I wan’t sure what we were going to do. I felt sad because because (the teachers) lost everything and they all worked really hard for a really long time. I know they are still kinda struggling but they are working hard to get back to get back (to normal).”
One faculty member who still does not know how much damage was done to her educational supplies is Benton Middle School Librarian and School Librarian of the Year Kim Howell.
“We are praying all of the books are fine. There was just so much water. I know we lost four or five bookshelves from the front, not sure about all of the technology that we lost.”
Howell went on to say that everything in the back room — shelving, office desk, furniture — was all damaged.
“In a library, there are so many things other than books. There are teacher resources, text books, it’s not just the circulation of the children’s books. It’s very chaotic at this point,” she said.
Howell noted through it all, she is grateful to the community and neighboring schools for their continued support.
“An overwhelming amount of people have came to help. Thank you for everyone’s support and prayers,” said Howell.