RUSSELL - Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Middle School students and teachers have had an interesting start to the 2011-2012 school year.
Since the July 1 storm ripped the roof off the middle school building in Russell, resulting in extensive water damage to classrooms and offices on three floors of the school, and the restoration project was not quite completed yet on Aug. 22, the first day of school, students needed a place to learn and staff needed a place to teach. Two sites in Russell - Grace First Parish Church and the Russell Community Center - were chosen for meet the district's educational needs.
"We're lucky to have a place to use," RTR Middle School teacher Ron Ries said. "All things considered, it's been going well. The kids have shown good cooperation and everyone is making it work."
Photo by Jenny Kirk
As restorations are being done on the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Middle School, students got comfortable in their new setting.
Language arts teacher Renee Manian's new classroom is in the church sanctuary, where students like seventh-graders Adrian Escher and Austin Weets sit in the rows of pews to read their individual books.
"The kids are at pews instead of desks, but basically, it's still a classroom," Manian said. "It's just a little less organized. It's still a work in progress."
The sanctuary also allows room for students to stretch out and work on homework, like seventh-graders Katie Petersen, Hallie Lingen, Grace Ekema and Katline Dahl were doing during study hall Tuesday.
"The teaching and learning are still the same, but it's just in a different place," Manian said.
The biggest challenge for many teachers has been the lack of technology, especially for Ries, who teaches sixth grade in the morning and middle school computer in the afternoon.
"We've been learning about computers and about doing projects," Ries said. "It's just in a different order. I've been showing them instructional tutorials and we've been planning projects instead."
Most of the middle school computers were damaged in the storm, so new ones had to be ordered.
"You don't realize how much you use technology until you don't have it," Manian said. "But we're just going back to doing things the old-fashioned way, with just books and paper for awhile."
While social studies and math classes are currently being held at the community center, the school also uses the church Narthex meeting room, basement and Sunday School rooms to educate the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. Teachers stay in their makeshift classrooms, while the students travel back and forth.
"Science is in the basement and art, FACS (Family and Consumer Science) and Spanish are in the Sunday School rooms," Manian said. "One big plus is that the church and community center are air-conditioned. Our school isn't."
Spending time outdoors has been a nice addition to the unusual school set-up this year, unless the weather is uncooperative. For lunch every day, students and staff walk back to the RTR Middle School cafeteria, which received very minimal damage in the storm.
"Having class here is a lot different," Peterson said. "The most difficult part is trying to get around when it's raining. We have to wipe off our shoes or we can just take them off."
Manian also said that students have been going outside to draw for art class or to the park for physical education class.
"It's been pretty cool," Weets said. "Between classes, we get to go outside and get some fresh air. That's a big change. I'll probably miss that when we go back to the other school."
Teachers and students alike, have mixed feelings about returning to the main building. The last time Manian checked out her old classroom, it was pretty grim.
"It had a cement floor, no ceiling and the plaster walls were all ripped out," she said. "It'll be a completely new room when we come back."
Petersen said the unique school settings have been different, but good. The one thing she won't miss is having to change clothes for volleyball practice in the bathrooms at the church or community center. She thinks the restoration of the school has gone well so far.
"When we go in for lunch, it looks really nice," she said. "The tiles are all down. I guess the whole building will be tiled."
Although the original plan was to have students start school in the newly-restored building, RTR Superintendent Bruce Houck said that everyone has been flexible and upbeat about the situation.
"I've heard a lot of compliments on how the staff reacted to it," he said. "And the kids think it's kind of neat. It's a change of pace."
The new plan is for students to continue attending school at the alternate sites, with the hopes of being back at the RTR Middle School on Sept. 12.
"The kids have adjusted pretty well," Manian said. "Someday, they'll look back on this and remember the year they started school in the church."