Returning Fla. students face damage done by Charley
POINCIANA, Fla. -- Students at Poinciana High School returned to classes Monday for the first time since Hurricane Charley to find their gym and cafeteria roofless and a giant tent outside serving free breakfast and lunch.
Schools in six Florida counties reopened Monday, while schools in three others are not expected to resume classes for another week. Students had returned from summer vacation just over a week before the storm struck Aug. 13.
Officials faced a mountain of obstacles to get schools ready for thousands of students to return.
People who used the schools as temporary shelters had to be moved out. Torn-up portable classrooms and damaged school buses had to be repaired. Cafeteria food that had spoiled had to be disposed of and restocked.
At Poinciana, near Orlando, insulation and metal strips twisted in the wind where roofs once were. But many of the school's 2,300 students said they were glad to be back.
"I was bored sitting at home with no electricity," said Fame Snyder, a 16-year-old junior.
During the first period, Poinciana students were asked to write about their experiences during the hurricane. The responses will be compiled into a book and any profits will go toward relief efforts.
"It's sad. A lot of people still don't have power. Their houses are ruined and they have to go fix them," said Nada Taha, a 15-year-old senior and student body president. "There are a lot of problems at home."
Thirty-three psychologists and eight social workers were on hand in Osceola County to talk to the students.
Peter Straker, Poinciana's assistant principal, said it is important for the students to be back at school because "they need structure."
"The students have been through a rough time and we are here to help them through this," he said.
Gov. Jeb Bush issued an executive order last week allowing waivers of certain requirements on class size, attendance and immunization deadlines to help the schools reopen.
"There's a lot more to do -- get roofs fixed, get jobs created and long-term housing needs are becoming a predominant issue," he said Monday. "But schools opening is a relief."
Some students decided the damage to their schools was not all bad.
"It will give me an excuse to be late to class since the campus is going to be closed off in some spots," joked Luisa Lum, a 17-year-old junior.
Daniel Douglas, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the week off had given him more time to prepare for a world history test. "I studied during the time off. I'm glad," he said.
The high school is also getting some help from kids in Illinois. Students at a high school in Paris, Ill., adopted Poinciana High after hearing about the damage. They plan to send money and relief supplies.
On the Net:
Florida Department of Education: http://www.fldoe.org