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August 7, 2012

Returning to the hive: Henryville schools welcome students back five months after near destruction from tornadoes

HENRYVILLE — Picking up student planners, finding their lockers and getting into their classrooms, students in Henryville schools went about their regular business for their first day of school Tuesday.

But for many of them, it was more like a homecoming.

Five months after Henryville Elementary and Junior/Senior High School were mangled by tornadoes, students were able to return to the schools they loved. Glenn Riggs, principal of Henryville Elementary, said he saw students beaming to come back to their school.

“As I saw them get off the bus today, the kids were overwhelmed and overjoyed to be back at home in school,” he said.

After the schools were hit by the tornadoes — which killed one person in Clark County and 13 in Southern Indiana — the elementary students finished their school year at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany and the high school students went to the Mid-America Science Park in Scottsburg.

Riggs said though the tornadoes destroyed much of the school and the classroom materials of teachers, they kept their spirits up.

Patty Renn, a fifth-grade teacher at the elementary school, said she had taught for 31 years — five of them at Henryville. She lost many of the teaching tools and room decorations she had acquired over the years in the storm. But she said with the school rebuilt, she had a chance to start anew.

“Cleansing is a good thing,” Renn said. “It really makes you pick out the things that are important, it makes you prioritize. I have a clean closet for the first time in years.”

But she said with donations coming in from all over the country and help from locals, she thinks teachers and students will have little trouble adjusting and displaying Hornet Pride.

“We all feel good again coming back here as a family,” Renn said. “We’re glad to be back, it feels like home again.”

Olivia Guernsey, a fifth-grader, said finishing the school year at Graceland wasn’t bad, but she’s more comfortable in Henryville.

“I missed going here,” Guernsey said. “My dad went here and I really like it because I’m used to going here.”

Dale Robertson, a bus driver, maintenance worker and Henryville parent, said it meant a lot for him to see the place where he works and graduated from restored. He said he really didn’t think the rebuilding process would have been finished so early, but construction company Belfor Co. completed the work on time in about five months.

“It’s unreal for them to do that, especially as much damage as we had,” Robertson said. “It’s just fantastic. I can’t believe you can put something together that quick, and I’m glad to be home, too.”

But there are still some loose ends for the staff to tie up. Some classrooms don’t have all their furniture, the gym in the elementary school is used as a staging area for a lot of materials and the library doesn’t have any books in it yet.

But Troy Albert, principal of the Jr./Sr. High School, said everything will finish in its own time.

“For the most part, everyone’s comfortable,” Albert said. “I think what we have to do is be patient. I think that’s hard for someone who lost everything, but I think they realize that with patience, good things come.”

Kaitlyn Maloney, senior class president, said it’s good to see her school family again, but she’s proud of where her school is now.

“It’s the students that make it, but it’s nice to be back in Henryville,” Maloney said.

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Allan Leith, and daughter, Grace, Louisville, head back after reaching the now blocked off end of the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville Wednesday afternoon.

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