Joplin schools reopen despite severe damage

Bird’s-eye view of damage to Joplin High School. Freshmen Bonnie Ardrey and DiVaughn Simmon are attending Memorial Middle School until it can be repaired. (Photo: wp.joplinfree- thinkers.org)

By Hannah Cropf, Junior, Ladue High School

As the summer season ends, millions of students go back to school. While many dread the transition from beach bags to backpacks, it posed other issues for students in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo., who returned to school Aug. 17.

Twelve-year-old Brooke Parker is one of many Joplin teenagers left without a place to go this semester. Her school, East Middle School, lost both its gym and roof. Its building is not structurally capable for the upcoming school year, so for now, Brooke attends seventh grade in a warehouse.

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“I [didn’t] know what to expect, especially with gym and choir and extracurricular activities,” Brooke said.

While East Middle School suffered extreme damage, Joplin High School was destroyed completely. Bonnie Ardrey and DiVaughn Simmons, both 14-year-old freshmen, were eager to start high school there. But because of the deadly tornado, they now go to Memorial Middle School instead.

“I was excited to go to the new high school, but [now I’m] bummed about going back to middle school. I wanted to experience what my other family [members] did but I’m not going to be able to now,” Bonnie said.

DiVaughn may not go to school in Joplin at all. His family is considering moving to Summer Creek, Texas, but no decision has been made.

Though DiVaughn’s example is extreme, it is not uncommon for Joplin students to move where schools will better meet their needs.

“Most of my friends are moving to another school district,” Bonnie said.

According to the Joplin schools website, the tornado on May 22 destroyed three schools beyond repair. Two more suffered significant damage, including the administrative building. On June 6, Joplin initiated Operation Rising Eagle to relocate students of destroyed schools to new ones, but the replacements found for students remain temporary.

“We didn’t want to lose our community; we didn’t want to lose our families. Schools are a big part of why people are in Joplin, and getting back to normal quickly was very important,” Superintendent C. J. Huff told the New York Times Aug. 18.

Joplin school districts need more than just new buildings. Heather Schuster, Development Director of the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, has worked closely with Joplin schools to reinstate a healthy educational environment.

“We at the Boys and Girls Club strive to work with the Joplin School District to provide the best possible experience for students. During our afterschool program we work together to transport children from school to the club. We also work together to get information on kids needing extra support, raise awareness about our programs and for funding requests,” Schuster said. “While we are not working on rebuilding the Joplin schools, we are working on how to continue to provide services, such as transportation to the club from the new, temporary school locations.”

Brooke, Bonnie, and DiVaughn are all members of the Boys and Girls Club of Joplin, one of the many organizations that extended their services in the aftermath of the tornado to better accommodate the needs of the community. Immediately after the tornado, the club opened free to the public, providing longer hours, three meals and counseling.

“[We are] working with a national partner to try and obtain school supplies for the over 250 kids we see a day and hopefully have extra for other children in the community that are in need,” Schuster said.

St. Louis Volunteers can contribute to rebuilding Joplin schools via the Jewish Community Relations Council at http://www.jewishinstlouis.org/JOPLIN.