Tippecanoe County prepares school for tornado-displaced students

Wea Ridge Middle School
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Just because they're not in school this week, that doesn't mean the students from Mintonye Elementary School and Southwestern Middle School in Tippecanoe County don't have work of their own to do.

Teachers from both schools got lessons and homework on line Tuesday on the district's website, so students could keep up with their school work and be ready for next Monday when classes resume at alternate locations.

Pre-K through sixth grade students will attend school the rest of this year at First Assembly Community Ministries on Beck Lane, while seventh and eighth graders from Southwestern Middle School will join students at Wea Ridge Middle School.

The middle school was so badly damaged that teachers from there have not been able to get inside to retrieve their belongings, books or lessons.

The teachers from the elementary school have been luckier.  They got a look at the inside of the damaged elementary school for the first time Tuesday when they were able to retrieve what they need to resume classes next week.

"I just didn't realize how bad it would be," said second grade teacher Christina Bymaster, choking up as she hugged fellow teacher Sheryl Davis.

"I'll come down and look," Davis told her.

No matter where you looked Tuesday, though, every classroom at Mintonye Elementary School told a story about how unpredictable nature can be.

"I don't even know what to do with this stuff. They're wet," said Bymaster, picking up a stack of papers on her desk.

Those papers weren't what upset her the most.

"This gaping hole is right above my kids, so that's what upsets me the most," said Bymaster as she looked up at what used to be the ceiling in her classrom and instead, saw the sky.

"If they can't get that covered by tomorrow night, I'll lose everything in here," she said, motioning to the hole in the ceiling.

"I'm going to have to have boxes," Bymaster explained to a crew of people there to help her and other teachers clear out their classrooms.

"This is what I was supposed to be teaching this week," she said, grabbing her lesson plans.

Fortunately, those lessons can be transerferred to a new location.

"On Monday, when the kids come, that's what's gonna happen," said Bymaster.

"I'm gonna be the same Mrs. Bymaster that was here before all this happened," she added.

"We're going to do reading and math and we're gonna get back on track because we just need to get back to normal and that's what I expect to do," she said firmly.

Bymaster said she knows her second graders will have expectations too, like their desks and books waiting for them, like nothing ever happened.

"That's going to make them feel more secure.  That's what they're worried about," she said of her students.

They'll also have Mrs. Bymaster waiting for them, like always.

"We're ok.  I'm ok and we'll get things back to normal," she said confidently.

It will just be a new normal.

"It's time to start over," Bymaster explained.

There will be new life lessons.  There already have been when Bymaster looked around her classroom and saw all that hadn't been destroyed.

 "Small things are wonderful," she said.

Change, though sometimes scary, can be good, even when you're not expecting it.

Mintonye students are facing one big change that they might not enjoy in the short run. 

The church where they're relocating to isn't equipped to make hot lunches. That means students will have to pack their lunches, until at least January when the district plans to have hot meals cooked at another school and delivered.

Looking at the damage at Southwestern Middle School, it's easy to understand why students won't be returning there anytime soon. The sixth graders will be going with the Mintonye Elemetary students to a local church. The seventh and eighth graders will be going to the existing Wea Ridge Middle School. It's a much bigger, newer school.

Principal Cory Marshall gave us a tour Tuesday. He says they're clearing out a wing so the Southwestern students can have their own space - a school within a school.

"It's important to us that they not just be absorbed into our student body where they feel like they've started a whole new school, but where they can maintain their friends, have their own lockers, teachers, eat lunch together and continue those bonds I'm sure they've built at Southwestern," said Marshall.

There will be 275 students in one wing, and they'll have their own classrooms, computer lab and science room set up like a lab space. However, there will be spaces they'll have to share with the Wea Ridge students.

"We have one media center, gym, specials-music, art, consumer, tech ed," explained the principal.

While the space is set, there are still details to work out, like transportation. In the meantime, teachers are working on instructional packets for the students for the rest of this week so they're not too behind in their studies when classes resume on Monday.