Greensburg happy to get back to school

08/16/2007 1:01 AM

01/24/2008 5:15 PM

Days after the deadly May 4 tornado took out this town, the superintendent of schools declared they'd have classes come August.

Privately, folks in town thought the notion was crazy. No way it would happen, not when virtually everything was gone.

Chalk one up for superintendent Darin Headrick.

Not only was he right -- classes began Wednesday -- but USD 422 returned about 74 percent of its student body.

It doesn't matter that the phone lines still aren't installed and all the computers haven't come in yet. Neither have the classroom boards and many of the chairs. Contractors are still working on the temporary cafeteria-auditorium, so food will be prepared at a nearby senior citizen center and driven over. Kids ate lunch inside their classrooms Wednesday and will for the next several weeks.

"But we have kids, teachers and textbooks," Headrick said. "We have everything we need to have school."

With all remnants of the three school buildings wiped away, Greensburg now has a campus of 28 trailers with new sidewalks and a soon-to-be poured parking lot. The campus is set up just outside the city limits, on land where the junior high and elementary school used to sit.

Older students will walk in and out of these units to switch classes with no halls to chat in or lockers to stand by. School life for now will consist of shuffling from trailer to trailer with a backdrop of devastation, and working construction crews, all around.

Talk about cool, said Connor Staats, a Greensburg High School sophomore.

"Walking outside in between classes, that's my vision of what college is like," Staats, 15, said a few days before classes started."...For once, I've been looking forward to school."

That's the type of attitude, one swimming in optimism, that permeates this town trying to resurrect itself. Kids don't talk about the schools and possessions they lost, they talk about finally seeing their friends and having some classrooms bigger than their old ones. They talk about all the school supplies people donated and the people who keep giving to their town.

"Every once in a while you stop and go, 'Wow, people are really nice,' " Connor said. "It's like, 'Thank you, people I don't know.' "

Teachers don't care that computers haven't arrived yet, the Internet isn't installed and they still don't have those white boards they need for teaching. It's all about how great it is to do something they know and to be around students and colleagues they know.

Amber Campbell, who has taught vocal music to grade schoolers at Greensburg the past seven years, spent her first day of school humming.

So, at least in that way, it wasn't out of the normal.

The modular building in which she was teaching isn't the best for acoustics, though.

"Let's just say it sounds really alive," Campbell said. "It's not dampered at all. It's just nice to have a building."

The house Campbell shared with her husband, Loren, and their 2 ½-year-old daughter, Blythe, was destroyed by the tornado. They live in what Campbell calls the FEMA compound, just south of where the high school once sat on Main Street.

"This is an important day for our community," Campbell said. "If the school makes it, I think our community makes it."

Greensburg could have had school in another town, merging with another district. But school and town officials knew the importance of teaching students from their home base. It wasn't only what was best for the students, but for Greensburg, Headrick said.

"We knew if we were going to get people to move back into town, we had to have a school here," he said. "We knew they had to have the motivation to move back."

Ringing the school bell Wednesday didn't mean the work was done. It'll be weeks, possibly not until the first of October, until all the loose ends are cinched. The junior high school teacher who spoke Wednesday from a makeshift podium of stacked cardboard boxes may have to use that for a while. The industrial arts classroom won't be erected and ready to use for weeks. Teachers are still waiting for the chairs.

"... We're just going to make the best of it," said Laura Prosser, who teaches first grade. "That's pretty much our take on it. Taking it one day after another and seeing what comes out."

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