It was the first day of school and a sixth grader did not know where the office was in our new building.
He asked eighth grade science teacher Mike Wallace for directions. Wallace, glancing down at the end of the hall, told the youngster, “Go down the hall and turn right at the governor.”
Whether the child knew who Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was, I have no idea, but the presence of the governor in our hallways and the national media at every new or refurbished building in the Joplin School District made our first day of school Wednesday a memorable one.
Normally, so much media might be considered intrusive, but not on this day, just three months after an EF-5 tornado destroyed or heavily damaged 10 of our 19 schools.
On this day, the national and world media were welcome because it was so important to thank the world making it possible.
In the days after the May 22 Joplin Tornado, the idea that school would start on time seemed an impossibility. Joplin High School, a center of the community, had been blown apart by nature’s fierce fury, leaving the words “Op High School” for all to see.
That did not last long. Within a couple of days, someone had added two letters to that sign, an H and an E, turning it into Hope High School, and setting the stage for the complete resurrection of the Joplin School District.
The effort began with school administrators and board members who had to create solutions because there was no blueprint for how to deal with this kind of devastation.
Teachers and staff were brought into the equation and the Joplin community, parents, students, business owners, and people who had no connection to elementary and secondary education except for paying the taxes that support it. The restoration of Joplin schools and the idea that they could open on time, only 87 days after the tornado, became the goal of an entire community.
And that community extended far beyond the city limits of Joplin. There was much need in this community and in this school system and people from across Missouri, the nation, and the world, stepped in to take care of that need.
Millions in donations came, brought about in part of the national media that brought attention to the difficulties we were facing.
The United Arab Emirates chipped in with a half-million dollars and the promise of another half-million in matching funds to provide laptops for every Joplin High School student as a part of the school district’s One-to-One initiative.
Most of the effort was steered successfully through the district’s Bright Futures program, an initiative started two years ago to help provide equipment for schools and to cover the needs of the poorest children in our community.
Bright Futures’ success had already been imitated in neighboring school districts well before the tornado. Its expansion to meet the challenges of tornado recovery should guarantee it will be imitated across the nation.
So when we saw reporters with their cameras and notebooks approaching us and our students Wednesday morning, we met them with deep gratitude.
They were the ones who allowed us to express our thank you to a world that adopted the Joplin community and made it their own.
A simple thank you can never repay the many acts of generosity that made opening day in the Joplin Schools a success, so we are going to try to show our appreciation in the best way we can, by giving 100 percent of our effort to make the best use of the schools that the world made possible.