Originally created 08/24/04

Students to return to school for the first time since hurricane



POINCIANA, Fla. -- Hurricane Charley tore the roof off the gym and cafeteria at Poinciana High School, but students were happy to be going back to class Monday nonetheless.

"I was bored sitting at home with no electricity," said Fame Snyder, a 16-year-old junior at the school south of Orlando.

At giant tent was set up to serve as a temporary cafeteria for the school's 2,300 students. Free breakfasts and lunches will be available to all of its students for the next two weeks.

"Everybody is calling it lunch under the Big Top," said Dana Schafer, a spokeswoman for Osceola County schools.

Schools in some of the state's hardest-hit areas, Charlotte and Hardee counties, weren't expected to reopen for another week.

But officials here in Osceola County managed to overcome a mountain of obstacles to get schools in shape before students returned Monday.

Besides the structural damage at Poinciana High, the storm took out a few portable classrooms and damaged several school buses. Cafeteria food spoiled and had to be disposed of and restocked. The school had reopened from summer vacation just a week before the storm struck Aug. 13.

During Monday's first period, Poinciana students will be asked to write about their experiences during the hurricane. The responses will be compiled into a book and any profits will be used for relief efforts.

Luisa Lum, a 17-year-old junior, said that she had spent the week after Charley helping out a sister whose apartment was damaged. She joked that students could use the hurricane damage at the school to their advantage.

"It will give me an excuse to be late to class since the campus is going to be closed off in some spots," Lum said.

Daniel Douglas, a 15-year-old sophomore, said the week off had given him more time to prepare for a world history test.

"So I studied during the time off. I'm glad," Douglas said.

Peter Straker, Poinciana's assistant principal, said it's important for the students to be back at school because "they need structure."

"The students have been through a rough time and we are here to help them through this," he said.

Across Osceola County, 33 psychologists and eight social workers planned to be on hand to address mental health issues in the aftermath of the hurricane.

The high school also was getting help from a high school in Illinois. Students at a high school in Paris, Ill., decided to adopt Poinciana High School after learning about the school's damage in news reports. They plan to send money and relief supplies to the high school, Schafer said.

On the Net:

Florida Department of Education: http://www.fldoe.org