That’s how long it takes for a town brought to its knees to shake off the dirt, create a grand plan and get children back into school on the same day that they would have returned had that May tornado never developed. While the last few days of school were canceled because more than half of the districts school buildings and other properties were damaged or destroyed, it has only taken 86 days to do what seemed impossible. Empty warehouses, a former department store and a building or two that housed Joplin’s children over 100 years ago but have had fairly silent halls for decades have all been retrofitted and today are echoing with the sounds of the first day of school. And the results are not what you might expect. The new Joplin High School for 11th and 12th graders, tucked into a long-vacant department store at the mall, resembles a modern college campus more than a high school…and you’d never guess you could have bought discount clothing in the same building 10 or so years ago.
Not only have the schools been retrofitted, merged and relocated, but most of the furniture and supplies in the buildings has been replaced as well. Some things were salvageable, but thanks to the generosity of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, from other schools who donated time, money and new and used supplies, school has started today in Joplin as scheduled.
I’m sure there have been lots of tears. I’m sure the whole school year will be full of moments when teachers instinctively reach for this or that educational item only to remember that it no longer exists. Many moments when everyone remembers those lost, when a child looks for the kid who always sat next to them in the classroom, or smiles at the memory of the boy with the charming smile, or forget that their mom won’t be there to greet them when they get off the bus tonight…
Joplin is rebuilding. Hearts, schools, homes and lives. Keep them in your prayers.