By Chris Kieffer
TUPELO – Joyner Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lindsey White sifted through damp books in her classroom on Wednesday afternoon, looking for any that were salvageable.
The kindergarten- through second-grade school was damaged by Monday’s tornado, which ripped off shingles and exposed a couple of bare spots in its roof. Most heavily hit was the kindergarten wing, where the wind ripped several sections of the flat roof, allowing more than an inch of water to enter classrooms.
As most Tupelo school children returned to class on Wednesday, Joyner teachers and staff worked to relocate the kindergarten classrooms to Church Street School, where the kindergartners will finish the school year, beginning on Monday. Construction crews are working to restore the rest of the building, with a tentative plan for first- and second-graders also to return there on Monday.
As White packed boxes to be carried to Church Street, she said the biggest losses were books – probably a couple of hundred story books were destroyed – and wooden furniture that got wet.
“It really is sad to know the kids won’t finish out the year in here,” she said. “By this time of the year, you are a community, and this classroom is like a house.
“It also could be so much worse, and the fact I know all of my kids will be coming back helps.”
The educators wore hard hats and protective breathing masks as they hurriedly worked before clearing the area for the construction crews to begin the roof repairs. The school’s entire staff and several volunteers then spent the afternoon making preparations at Church Street.
“The most devastating thing I’ve ever seen in my teaching career was coming in (Tuesday) to get phone numbers for my students and seeing their work floating in cubicles,” said kindergarten teacher Brenna Alberson Politte.
Much of the restoration at Joyner will involve replacing ceilings and cleaning the building.
“The main thing is making everything safe and secure for the staff and children so everyone can come back Monday,” said Jason Stevens, the on-site superintendent for Century Construction.
Kindergarten teacher Brittany McGreger said it was hard seeing the damage, but she and others also expressed gratitude for having Church Street School available. Joyner Principal Kim Foster asked parents to continue to check AlertNow and the district website for updates as they prepared to reopen Joyner. She also praised her staff’s attitudes.
“They want this place to be ready for the kids, and they will do whatever they can between now and Monday to make it happen,” she said. “We want them to walk though those doors in a hospitable place.”
Meanwhile, Superintendent Gearl Loden said the resumption of classes on the district’s other campuses went well Wednesday.
“It was uplifting to be in town early dropping my own children off and seeing buses on the streets and children at the bus stops,” he said. “Even though it will take several days to have all the students and teachers back, it is nice to be moving forward.”