By Susan Riddell
Salyersville Grade School (Magoffin County) library media specialist Charlene Minix said her library was arguably one of the best in the state a year ago.
“I truly believe I had the best 21st-century library in Kentucky,” she said. “I had everything. You name it.”
Now, Minix has about one-fourth the space she had before, one-third of the books and less than one-tenth of the technology.
Salyersville Grade School, along with nearby Harold Whitaker Middle School, was heavily damaged in the March tornados that ravaged several areas including eastern Kentucky.
Morgan County school district also had schools with heavy damage.
All of these schools, however, made the best of their respective situations last spring, finishing out the year with less than two weeks of closure following the devastation. But things won’t return to normal for many of them for years to come.
“This whole experience has been just overwhelming,” said Salyersville Grade School assistant principal Gary Helton. “You can’t put into words what we’ve been through.”
Both Salyersville Grade School and Harold Whitaker Middle have been condemned. The middle school teachers and students moved in with Magoffin County High School, and Salyersville Grade School, built in 2004, had teachers and students relocate a half-mile away to its former campus.
The condemned buildings won’t reopen for at least two years, and administrators aren’t sure if repairs will be made or new buildings will need to be built.
What they do know, however, is that when students walk through school doors today to start the 2012-13 school year, teachers and administrators are ready to facilitate high-quality learning.
“We may not have everything we want, but we’re doing well with what we do have,” Minix said. “Our top priority is the kids.”
Both Morgan and Magoffin county schools received support and resources from across the state and beyond.
Minix, whose library is now in an old classroom at the former Salyersville Grade School, received so many book donations she had to donate a significant portion of those to others in need of books because she didn’t have the space to keep the books.
West Liberty Elementary School (Morgan County) Principal Vickie Oldfield said the book donations to her school were equally appreciated.
“When word got out that we lost some of our library books, the amount of books that started arriving was massive,” Oldfield said. “We were truly blessed with trade books, teacher resource books and textbooks. First Lady Jane Beshear also spearheaded a state book drive that will provide thousands of books for Morgan and Magoffin counties.”
When Salyersville Grade School finished out the 2011-12 school year in its old facility, students and teachers returned to white walls and little technology. There were chalkboards instead of Smartboards.
But time has allowed the district to give buildings – used for other district needs the last several years, like adult education and a faculty exercise facility – more of an elementary school feel.
Recently, the Kentucky Education Association put together a very successful event that saw more than 80 volunteers come to Salyersville to paint the school with murals and bright colors. They also landscaped the property, worked to make facilities safer for younger students and cataloged library books.
“We’ve been tickled to death with the people out there who have supported us,” Helton said.
West Liberty Elementary’s library, like Salyersville Grade School, saw the worst damage to the school. More than five inches of snow fell in the days that followed, further damaging property and supplies.
“At that point, we thought our students would be bused between the other three elementary schools,” Oldfield said. “Luckily, I received word that we would be moving into the old Boneal Factory building at Index.
“I came up to the factory to find a dark, empty shell and couldn’t imagine how we would get it ready for students within a week (which is the time frame we were given),” Oldfield added. “A volunteer group (from Virginia) arrived and went to work. I wish I could find words that would convey just how impressive it was to see the hundreds of volunteers from our community and all over Kentucky come together to get our school ready.”
Morgan County schools open this Thursday for students.
“We tried to put a positive spin on the move and get the community’s support by showing them just what can be accomplished when everyone comes together. I think it worked,” Oldfield said.
Helton said he made a point to make that same positive spin on the situation to teachers and students as soon as they knew they were relocating to the old school.
“We had several meetings with staff members, and we told them there was no way we were going to get everything back,” Helton said. “Each teacher took an inventory, and we looked at their needs. Where we came up short, that’s where we called around asking for extra textbooks and things like that.
“Our teachers have really stepped up to the challenge,” Helton added. “We have rooms that don’t have dry erase boards; we have chalkboards and erasers again, and that’s okay.”
Teachers are learning how to better share the resources they do have, Helton said, just like students might have to share textbooks from time to time.
He sees no reason Salyersville Grade School students won’t be successful this year. He was already impressed by their reaction to the limited resources last March. “They were more concerned about our losses to the library,” he said. “They wanted library books more than they wanted a playground.”
Minix said that until she returns her library to it 21st-century capabilities, she plans on facilitating learning in creative ways. For example, her older students will learn about card cataloging while helping her get everything in place. The lesson will not only engage and teach them, but also help her get her library organized and complete.
“There are still so many opportunities for teaching moments here,” she said. “I can read to the smaller children in one part of the room with just a few beanbags. I don’t have the computers I had before, but I might try to bring some Nooks in here. Whatever we end up with, we’ll find a way to make it work for the kids.”
Gary Helton, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 349-3411
Charlene Minix, email@example.com, (606) 349-3411
Vickie Oldfield, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606) 743-8302