Tornado pulls people together at Immaculate Conception

Monday, June 2, 2003

MATTHEW APGAR * photos@semissourian.com

Charlie Daniels and his band played in the Auto Tire & Parts Race Track in Benton, Mo., on Sunday. About 750 people danced and sang along with Daniels' country music. By Bob Miller ~ Southeast Missourian

The destruction at Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Jackson during the May 6 tornado meant different things to different people.

For 7-year-old first-grader Allie Wallace, the destruction meant not being able to participate in the annual mission carnival, where students can put teachers in jail, play games and participate in programs.

For kindergarten teacher Tammy Carroll, it meant trying to convince her pupils that school is a safe place for them to be despite what happened that Tuesday evening after school hours.

And for principal Tammy Nenninger, it meant organizational chaos.

The school will get back on its feet, but there is much to figure out between now and August, when the doors open up for lessons again.

But, regardless of age or position, those associated with the school say the disaster has brought about camaraderie.

"It helped pull us all together," said science teacher Mary Jane Feiser. "The school got support from the teachers, parents and people we didn't even know. People are still concerned. They still ask how things are going and how they can help."

Waiting on insurance

Nenninger said there is no way the school can be completely repaired by the time school starts later this summer. The outer wall of the school's gymnasium was recently knocked down. The words "home" and "guests" can be seen from Hope Street. Seven classrooms were demolished, and further damage was done in the school's new building. Nenninger declined to go into detail, but she said the school is considering several options on just how to continue next fall.

But before the school can make any decisions, it must first hear back from its insurance carrier. She said she should know more about the school's insurance claim and its plans this week.

Meanwhile, students are still trying to deal with the disaster. While other schools are wrapping up their years, the students from Immaculate Conception, a K-8 school, have been out nearly a month.

"It wasn't a fun ending of school by any means," said Trika Wallace, Allie's mother. "They were in school Tuesday and that was it. They didn't get a chance to have that buildup."

The school has been trying to make up for some of that.

Nenninger said the school tried to help give the students some closure by having play day and kindergarten and eighth-grade graduation.

But some things have been lost forever.

"I missed school and my friends," said fourth-grader Heather Halter, 10. "We didn't get everything accomplished that we thought we were. We were going to have a field trip, we were about to have a state capital test or the mission carnival."

Halter said "it was just sad" when she saw her school for the first time after the tornado.

Could have been worse

The tornado also made it difficult for many teachers to do final grading. Some teachers lost grade books and papers.

"It's been a real challenge to salvage what we could from the building, find out what we had and didn't have," said Feiser. "I was able to find a grade book, but lost some papers that had been graded but not reported. I just did the best I could with what I had. It really wasn't too bad. It could've been a lot worse."

Before the kindergarteners graduated, Carroll took her students on an outside tour of the building. She said she wanted to show them that they would've been scared but still safe if they had been in school during the tornado.

"We told them God is still good," Carroll said. "All year, we've been telling them that God is good. Even when bad things happen."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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