Back to school in Joplin after tornado
Students arrived at the "mall school" Wednesday morning to a bevy of well-wishers holding Joplin High signs and lining the entrance road. Some met in modular classrooms, right next to a row of concrete-lined storm shelters. Others lingered in the hallways, reuniting with old friends.
They raved about the school's college-like feel, complete with Joplin Joe's coffee bar and free laptops for each student thanks to a donation from the United Arab Emirates worth as much as $1 million.
Count their parents and adult relatives among the most impressed by the transformation.
"It just blows your mind," said Pamela Berry, who accompanied her 17-year-old nephew to a Tuesday night open house. "I want to come back to high school."
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, who toured the school Wednesday, encouraged students to take advantage of their new learning environment.
"I hope you use what has been given to you to lift the expectations of Joplin even higher," he said. "While there's been tremendous suffering, there are even greater expectations."
Among those hoping to match those expectations was junior Christopher Jones. Unlike most years, his summer vacation couldn't end soon enough, he said.
"I was really just looking for a change," Jones said.
School officials brought in additional counselors and trauma workers to help students and families who may still be struggling with the storm's aftermath.
"We can build buildings, but the emotional damage that this storm has caused is of a very significant concern and something we're going to be watching closely for months, if not years," Superintendent C.J. Huff said.
Phillip Gloyer, a communication arts teacher who is also a National Guard chaplain, said he plans to tap his divinity school training as well as his expertise in British literature.
"I'm just really focused on the kids' emotional health," he said. "A lot of hugs, a lot of encouragement. Asking them to tell their story. That's the best therapy."
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