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Strained Conditions For Students In West

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
Joel is an Emmy Award winning journalist with more than 15 year...
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WEST (CBSDFW.COM) - A fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Texas city of West on April 17, taking lives and removing half of the area’s infrastructure. It will take years for the city to recover, but there were some signs of normalcy on Monday morning, when students in West returned to school.

Part of the challenge in West has been finding buildings where the teachers and students could hold class. The city did not receive funding from FEMA until August, so much of the ‘back to school’ preparations have been last-minute efforts. Some temporary buildings did not roll into place until last Friday afternoon.

In less than a month, workers in West had to set up school buildings, hook up electricity and internet service, move in furniture and school supplies, and take care of all those little things that teachers and administrators would normally do over an entire summer.

“We have a village here,” said West High School teacher Beverly Cox. “If you look around, we talk about this as our high school village. And we’re going to be a family. One of the things that we learned this spring is that we bond close together and, if you look around, we will be close together and we’ll help one another. So, the spirit is here, and it’s rising!”

There are other logistic problems, as well. Since the intermediate school, middle school and high school were all damaged, kids from those campuses will now have to share a cafeteria and practice fields for sports. There is still an actual school building that once housed students from pre-K through third grade. It will now take in about 200 children from fourth grade and fifth grade as well. Parking and bus traffic will be controlled chaos, at best.

There will almost certainly be some confusion.

But educators are encouraged by how the students are handling with situation. “The coolest thing is how flexible and how excited the kids are,” said West Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Jan Hungate. “It doesn’t seem to matter where they’re going to school next year. They’re excited about football season. They’re excited about all the things that are about to happen. It’s going to be an interesting experience for the next couple of years, as we establish what’s going to happen in the future for West ISD.”

It could be another two years before teachers and students have a permanent building for their classes.

Teachers have received special training about the warning signs of flashbacks and trauma. The school district has had counselors available all summer long, and will continue to have them as the school year begins. But the district is hopeful that the familiar school routine will be another big stepping stone toward healing.

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