Students return to a repaired Lewis Elementary after 2013 monsoon damage. Ribbon cutting celebrates team effort during transition
It felt like fall on Fort Irwin – with the cool, clear morning and children being taken to a school for the first time in months.
It wasn’t back to school after a summer break, but a return to Lewis Elementary School, Jan. 13, as it opened its doors for the first time since storm damage occurred August 2013.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Baker, support operations maintenance trainer with Goldminer Team/Operations Group, accompanied his son Jude, 8, to the school.
Jude said it felt good to be back.
“He’s looking forward to going back to his old school,” Baker said just outside the entrance to Lewis. “It’s nice for them to be back at the school,” Baker said. “I’m glad they got it fixed up and repaired from the flood we had.”
Lewis students were relocated to other schools here while the school district repaired the damage. They retained their teachers and some of their classroom materials, since the temporary move included furnishings and supplies that had not been damaged. Soldiers and parents volunteered to move the items, so children would have a quality learning environment. With Lewis repaired, volunteers again helped move the classrooms back.
Sergeant Shawlonda Harris, a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron/11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and her husband Staff Sgt. Christopher Harris, clinic administrator with United States Army Dental Activity, walked with their smiling son, Christopher Jr., 5, to his kindergarten class. Harris said she helped with the moving of classrooms, which helped unite those involved.
“It was a lot of work, but with the team work, it brought the community together,” Harris said. “The teachers got to know the parents a lot more and [vice versa].”
Harris said she appreciated the plan put forth by Silver Valley Unified School District and U.S. Army Garrison for Lewis students while the school was repaired.
“The Garrison commander kept us informed – I enjoyed being informed and having those town hall meetings,” Harris said, referring to Col. Jon Braga. “He answered our questions outright. The school principal answered all of our questions. I’m happy she was here and was present at both sites to answer questions. It was a good transition.”
At a ceremonial ribbon cutting at the school Jan. 21, Marc Jackson, superintendent of SVUSD, told an audience of family members, Soldiers and leaders that it was important to “recognize the fantastic journey of Lewis staff, students, parents and administrators.”
“We’re here this morning to celebrate their return to their home school,” Jackson said. “In addition, we must recognize the many roads they have traveled during this journey and understand the hard work it has taken to get here.”
Jackson explained that the August 2013 storm damaged 35 classrooms and displaced 650 students and 50 staff. He credited military leadership with making a return to Lewis a top priority.
National Training Center and Fort Irwin commander Brig. Gen. Ted Martin expressed gratitude for the work by many people who helped with the transition of students out of Lewis and back.
“The list of people – the Soldiers, the Department of the Army civilians, Family members and children who contributed to the successful operation that culminates, here today, on this stage – is a very long and distinguished list,” Martin said.
Martin described the community as people who can take adversity and turn it into an opportunity.
“We’re thankful for your patience, we’re thankful for your support, and we’re thankful, most of all, for the positive attitude,” Martin said.
Lewis principal Patt LeBlanc said she appreciated staff of the school district, parents, students, Soldiers, and the 2nd Squadron of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
“I want to really thank our parents for being flexible, for completing independent study packets with their students – for doing all those things so we could get ready for your children to be here,” LeBlanc said. “The faces that I saw last week made it all worth it. To have a child look up at me and smile and say – ‘I’m so happy we’re back here’ – made it all worth it. We’re very glad to be home. Thank you.”