September 6, 2011

Joplin Goes Back to School

Three months after the devastating tornado, Jessica Kumari was there for the first day of school.

Jessica: That is right, Justin. There is still a lot of work to be done. In fact, the building which used to house the city’s only high school looks like it hasn’t been touched since the tornado. But classes did begin on time in a place you would never expect.

I was there for the first day of school with one student whose life was turned upside down by the tornado.

Emma Cox: I just thought it was a really bad storm.

Jessica: But the rain seventeen-year-old Emma Cox was driving through was not just a bad storm.

Emma: As we were around this part right here, up in front of us we could see a big wall of clouds, huge clouds.

Jessica: That wall of clouds was a massive F5 tornado that struck Emma’s hometown of Joplin, Missouri last may. The seventh deadliest tornado in U.S. history killed 160 people and destroyed 7,500 homes, including Emma’s.

Emma: The first time I walked through, there was glass, tree branches and leaves everywhere in my house. Stuff in cabinets, all over the floor. It was heart-wrenching to walk through it.

Jessica: Emma also lost her good friend Will Norton. She saw him just minutes before his SUV got caught in the storm.

Emma: I didn’t know that was the last time I was going to see him.

Jessica: The tornado wiped out one-third of Joplin, including the town’s only high school.

Emma: Words can’t describe how you’re going to feel when you see something so familiar to you just completely gone.

Jessica: Despite all these losses, just two days after the tornado touched down, school officials promised that classes for the next school year would start on time. Eighty-seven days later, that promise was kept.

“I’m really excited to get this first day of school underway and see how everyone is going to react to the school.”

Jessica: This temporary high school for Joplin’s juniors and seniors was set up in a place most of the students know well — the shopping mall.

Emma: When people said, ‘you’re going to the mall,’ I thought that was some big joke. And they said, ‘no really, you’re going to the mall.’ I was like, ‘alright.’

Jessica: A section of the Northpark Mall was remodeled.

“Anybody need a map?”

“It’s freshmen year all over again, trying to find classes and figure out where your teachers are and what time you have lunch and all that stuff.”

“They asked me how I felt about today and I told them I’ve been teaching 25 years and I said I’m a little nervous today.

Jessica: The building is smaller and there are no lockers. But thanks to a half million dollar donation from the United Arab Emirates, a country in the Middle East, laptops are replacing textbooks destroyed in the storm.

“It’s pretty cool. It’s a lot better than having to carry around books all the time.”

Jessica: And for the first time, there will be a student-run coffee bar.

“Jo Jo’s. Joplin Joes is what it stands for.”

“My hopes and expectations for this year are, number one, to take a lot of students, staff and community members who have scars and help them move forward, turn tragedy into an opportunity to rebuild and rebuild better. and just have best school year that we’ve had.

Jessica: That is something Emma wants too.

Emma: Having a fun senior year is important to every senior. Since freshmen you’re looking forward to being a senior. I hope that’s what’s going to happen.

Jessica: A feeling that is summed up on this makeshift message outside the old high school — hope.

Freshmen and sophomores also have a new campus that is about twelve minutes away from the juniors and senior’s campus. Officials hope they can get all the high school students back together at the old campus in three years.


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