The day has been a long time coming for Kennedy High School, which sustained the most severe damage of Cedar Rapids Community School District’s 31 school buildings during the August 10, 2020, derecho storm.
On Tuesday, Jan. 19, the doors will finally be open to students for in-person learning. Along with the rest of the district, Kennedy students and staff transitioned to virtual learning in March 2020 due to the onset of the pandemic—nearly a year ago.
“I’m looking forward to being able to get back to our culture, to do what we do,” says Jason Kline, Kennedy principal. “Just having students back in the building to connect with them face-to-face will be wonderful.”
‘The ceiling was coming down’
In the first moments after the derecho passed, staff members couldn’t tell how extensive the damage was since the building lost power.
In fact, approximately 70% to 80% of the roof had damage, which allowed large amounts of water into the building. Some of the worst damage was on the second floor in a physics classroom where there was a large hole in the roof and one-half inch of standing water.
“When Mr. Kline and I came through this classroom the day after the storm, the ceiling was coming down,” explains Jes Johnson, Kennedy associate principal. “And, it couldn’t get cleaned up quickly because there wasn’t any power.”=
Damage was extensive throughout the rest of the building, and issues were compounded as the water took its toll, especially in the gymnasium. The soaked wood floors became warped and had to be fully replaced. The walls were repainted, and new bleachers—already scheduled to be replaced before the storm—were installed.
Similar repairs needed to be done in the pool and theater areas. The pool was drained and cleaned over several days. In the auditorium, the stage was replaced and repainted, and the Black Box—a versatile arts room near the stage—was repaired.
Extensive water damage continued throughout the building, including the library, office, and multiple classrooms. Cleanup has been a herculean effort.
“They cleaned every trophy, every library book by hand,” says Kline.
An unforgettable first day of work
For new teachers to the district, August 10 was their first day of work, with teacher pre-service scheduled the entire week. For one of these teachers, Kennedy U.S. History teacher April Hoffman, it will be a first day she’ll never forget.
“We didn’t know how bad the storm had been because we were in the basement,” explains Hoffman. Once the storm subsided, Hoffman and several others went upstairs to the library where water was pouring in through the ceiling.
It turns out that August 10 would be the last time she was inside the building for months as staff quickly shifted plans to remote instruction.
“It was a huge challenge to adapt to the storm aftermath,” says Hoffman. “As a new teacher, you pick up so much useful information by being in-person, like where to make photocopies and who key people are.”
She is definitely looking forward to returning to the classroom.
“I’m looking forward to social interaction when students are back. It’s harder to make connections online with students,” says Hoffman. “Hopefully we can have deeper conversations in person.”
Ready for students, even in a pandemic
In addition to repairing storm damage, staff has adjusted the building for COVID-19 concerns. Classroom tables are now replaced with individual desks for social distancing along with other measures, and teachers are ready to welcome students to the building.
Devon Ashby, a Level 1 special education teacher at Kennedy, is excited for students to be back.
“Actually seeing student faces will be fantastic,” says Ashby. “And students have really wanted face-to-face interaction; they can’t wait for that.”
During remote learning, she led students through a writing project comparing the benefits of online school and the benefits of in-person school. “One student wrote that he just misses eating lunch in the cafeteria with his friends,” explains Ashby.
Having in-person learning as an option once again will be a huge benefit for students, as well, especially those who need extra support.
“Our students have been super flexible,” says Johnson. “For some students, virtual learning is not ideal, so having them in-person will be great so we can provide extra support to them.”
Kennedy staff has also been flexible, which Johnson notes.
“Our staff has been amazing,” says Johnson. “They’ve had to learn a whole new way of teaching on the fly, and have done a good job of collaborating with each other.”