After Tornado, Joplin Creates Makeshift Schools The Missouri city's high school was devastated by a tornado in May, so the district is converting an old big-box store into classroom space — with new walls, bright paint and even a mural of the school's mascot. Though starting school on time won't end the struggles of the battered community, it certainly helps.
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After Tornado, Joplin Creates Makeshift Schools

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After Tornado, Joplin Creates Makeshift Schools

After Tornado, Joplin Creates Makeshift Schools

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And as Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, that means a lot to the community.

FRANK MORRIS: The tornado ripped across Joplin on graduation day, Sunday, May 22nd. The devastation was vast and surreal: phone and power lines in tatters, desperate triages, swamped medical centers, scores missing. More than 3,000 school kids were suddenly homeless. The school district mobilized to account for every one of them.

ASHLEY MICKLETHWAITE: That was our first priority. Our next priority was, we need to get school up and running come fall. Where do we go? And it was just looking at all available space within the community.

MORRIS: And School Board President Ashley Micklethwaite does mean all available space.

MICKLETHWAITE: We are standing at Northpark Mall outside of the old Shopko building, which will be the new Joplin High School 11th and 12th grade center.

MORRIS: Micklethwaite admits there's no recipe for this abrupt transformation.


MICKLETHWAITE: No, there's no template. We're making it up as we go. Oh, check it out.


MICKLETHWAITE: It's our eagle, that's awesome.

MORRIS: She spots a huge mural of the school's mascot - more rapid progress.

MICKLETHWAITE: These guys are just working their hearts out.

MORRIS: And it's not just at the mall.


MORRIS: Out here, in an industrial park east of Joplin, construction crews are working overtime to transform a once-vacant shell into a middle school. Elsewhere, volunteers have flooded the town.


MORRIS: They're moving furniture and making donations; little kids have sent their allowance. Sheryl Crow, the singer, is giving the schools money from selling a vintage Mercedes. All this is deeply appreciated.


EMMA COX: My name is Emma Cox and I'm going to be a senior, and I'm going to go to school at Shopko High School.


MORRIS: Cox is sitting near the wreck of the old high school, where still more volunteers are salvaging lumber. The twister splintered her house and scattered her possessions. All summer, she's worked to help her parents recover and move. Like many in Joplin, she lives the tornado every day.

COX: I think, in some ways, school is going to take a lot of people's minds off of it. Whenever I am engaged in something, I don't really think about what's all around the town. So, I mean, I think it's going to help put a lot of people back in their normal positions and...

MORRIS: The tornado left well over a third of the district's kids homeless; still, almost all of them will go back to school in Joplin this month.

MICKLETHWAITE: We're having a big party. It's just going to be so healing for our community to have our kids back in school.

MORRIS: Ashley Mickelthwaite, the school board president, has a day job, too. It's at the hospital in Joplin that the tornado wrecked.

MICKLETHWAITE: I'm excited. I moved this week into my new office cubical, which is in a bank. Before that I was at a card table in my dad's living room, where we're living.

MORRIS: She and her family are living there because the tornado took their home.

MICKLETHWAITE: I cry most days. I laugh every day and I try to find beauty every day. You know, my home was damaged. My yard is just toast. But I have gladiolus coming up that I planted this spring, and they're beautiful. And I'm very thankful for that.

MORRIS: For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.

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