Greenbrier principal hoping school year provides some relief after flooding
By Alex Wiederspiel, WV MetroNews
RUPERT, W.Va. — In a normal year, this is the time when Rupert Elementary School Principal Jenny Harden would be recharging her batteries for another school year.
“I would be normally playing with my two boys who are seven and twelve,” she said. “And I would be enjoying my farm.”
But this isn’t a normal year for the Nettie native. Flood waters did enormous damage to homes in, around, and surrounding the Greenbrier County town of Rupert. Those flood waters didn’t spare the elementary school either–damaging the first floor of four buildings on the five building campus.
The damage total could exceed six figures.
“I’m not sure what the total is, but I can say $12,000 of doors alone [Thursday] were ordered,” Harden said.
The first floor of the main building took on rushing waters–probably upwards of one foot–in rooms that normally hold first and second grade students.
Harden said that wouldn’t stop the school from opening on time in August. One way or another, they will be ready to take on their 224 students.
“I think we are essential now,” she said. “I think we are the backbone and the lifeblood, and I think that we are very important. That’s why I’ve been here helping. I helped at the Rupert Community Center starting two Sundays ago, and now I’ve been at the school the last couple of days.”
Harden said that parents dealing with the clean-up process or returning to work will need to know that their children are safe and accounted for, that the students who witnessed the devastation will need a safe place to spend their time, and that residents will be afforded at least a small degree of normalcy by the school opening on time.
“I think it’s going to be very important that they feel safe and that this is their safe haven,” she said. “As it always has been, but even more so now. This is the place where they can come where they can avoid or be away from some of the trauma that they’ve been through.”
Harden recognizes that some of her students may not come back after their family’s lost everything, but she hopes parents will recognize how important it will be for students to return to Rupert Elementary School next month.
“There are several of our kids who have lost everything,” she said. “I have seen them. I have hugged them. They are doing okay. But we will probably have maybe even half our population that has lost everything.”
Though even now, the school is playing host to the Energy Express reading program. 14 students are participating so far in the eight week summer reading and nutrition program.
“A break and routine for the kids because kids need routine,” she said. “That will help them get through this as well.”
Harden said there was room for additional students in the program–should parents dealing with flood clean-up need child care options between 9 am and 1 pm.
Despite the destruction that hit the town of Rupert–which had less than 1000 people at last Census count–Harden said children can be resilient in the face of tragedy. She knows it first hand.
“Three and a half years ago, my house burned and I lost everything,” she said. “Totally different than a flood, but I can kind of relate to how they feel about some things.”
It’s that empathy Harden is hoping to bring into the school year that will, at least in part, begin the process of helping the community heal.