JOPLIN, Mo. – Nearly 90 days after a tornado wiped out one-third of this town, its school district has done something many people didn’t think possible.
Some even laughed when Superintendent C.J. Huff said in late May that classes would start on time, that he and other district leaders would come up with the space and textbooks and classrooms and equipment that more than 4,000 students no longer had. That somehow he and the others would make the district, with half of its building destroyed or severely damaged, whole again. Wednesday morning, he ended up being right.
Just after 7:30 a.m., buses pulled up to elementary schools, letting out eager 6- and 7-year-olds. Parents snapped photos. Middle-schoolers tried out their lockers.
And at 8:30, about 2,000 high school students were walking down new halls, scanning their schedules to see what room they were supposed to be in.
Just like they would any other year. Only, it was a little different.
Some of the students sat at new desks inside trailers, others in old school buildings that hadn’t seen students in a while. And the juniors and seniors? They were at the town shopping mall.
“We’ve been through a lot as a community, you’ve been through a lot,” high school Principal Kerry Sachetta told a cafeteria full of juniors as they each received a laptop for the school year. “We need to remember that, but we also need to rejoice.”
He went on to tell them how he, the community and others across the nation have high expectations for them this year.
“You’re in a mall,” Sachetta said, as laughter filled the cafeteria. “And we’re going to have school, and you’re going to like it.”
Throughout the summer, construction crews and architects, volunteers and district faculty and staff put in countless hours so this day could happen. The tornado destroyed or severely damaged nine of the district’s 19 buildings, killed 160 people and injured 900 more. Businesses, churches and homes were demolished.