Editor’s Note: With winter approaching and housing scarce, North Dakota residents face mountains of cleanup from seven weeks of flooding that led to the worst disaster in state history. In Minot, a city of 40,000, the flood destroyed 4,100 homes. In nearby Burlington, more than a third of the town of 1,100 was under water. The catastrophe left 8,000 to 9,000 people homeless in central North Dakota.
1:00 P.M. EDT Sept. 13, 2011 | MINOT, N.D.(UMNS)
Workers move boxes of school supplies into temporary classrooms at
First Presbyterian Church in Minot, N.D. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
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The teachers arrived first. They filed into the narthex of First Presbyterian Church in Minot, N.D., and watched eagle-eyed as a semi pulled into the driveway.
Then, like dancers in a skillfully choreographed ballet, workers began unloading box … after box … after box from the truck.
This was no ordinary back-to-school scene. The teachers — from Lincoln Elementary School — were preparing for school after an extraordinary summer. Displaced by the June floodwaters that clambered to the ceiling of Lincoln’s first floor, the teachers were doing more than decorating the usual bulletin boards, arranging desks, sorting books and figuring out how to handle first-day-of-school jitters.
They were settling into their new classrooms, graciously offered by First Presbyterian Church — their temporary home away from home.
Minot schools opened their doors Sept. 6, a week behind schedule after the worst flooding in the city’s history. The Souris (Mouse) River torrents that uprooted 11,000 people from their homes took a heavy toll on schools. Lincoln, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade, was one of several damaged schools.
First-grade teacher Lindsey Burdick unloads school supplies
in her temporary classroom at First Presbyterian Church.
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Nearly a fifth of the district’s 7,000 students went “back to school” in replacement classrooms set up in churches, the city auditorium and dozens of portable buildings.
School “will start, whether they’re ready or not,” said Virginia Schumacher, administrative assistant at First Presbyterian.
“Dealing with the flood, everyone does the best they can.”
Using ‘every nook and cranny’
Title I teacher Kristine Walker watched for her cartons of supplies to be unloaded from the semi.
Asked about her classroom, she replied, “Actually, I have a corner on the stage.”
“We’re utilizing every nook and cranny,” Schumacher added.
It is not easy squeezing everything in, Walker admitted. “I have a lot of materials that must be kept in the Title I room or we’re out of compliance,” she explained.
The Title I government program provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.
“They’re the kids who need extra help in reading and math,” Walker explained.
“Just to have a quiet place for them to work” is this teacher’s biggest challenge.
“All of my kids come from homes that were flooded, so we want to create an environment that is organized, not chaotic,” she said.
Walker’s husband is a mail carrier, and his route is near Lincoln Elementary.
“It’s really sad,” she said. “There’s no one to deliver to.”
The Walkers moved to Minot soon after the 1997 flood in Grand Forks, N.D. They were careful not to buy a home in a flood plain.
‘The kids will do OK’
Her colleague, Serena Zitz, was not as fortunate.
“My house is a shell,” said the kindergarten teacher and mother of four daughters. Her family was waiting to move into a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Minot Public School custodians rallied together, going to every flooded school and hastily packing resources. Later, materials exposed to floodwaters had to be sanitized.
“They did a phenomenal job saving (items), and they continue to do that,” Zitz said.
“Right now,” she continued, “I have a lot of donations in my classroom. There is stuff coming in from all over the United States.” Staff and students who lost so much appreciate generous gifts of teacher resources, school supplies and backpacks.
Cleanup workers remove the top layer of soil from the playground at Lincoln Elementary School in Minot, N.D., after floodwaters covered the area.
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“I’ll be working here every day until Sept. 1, open house,” Zitz predicted.
Joining Walker and Zitz was first-grade teacher Lindsey Burdick, who is expecting her second baby in mid-November. Readying her classroom for 15 eager children, she expressed optimism about the new academic year and the resiliency of her students.
“The kids will do OK,” she said. “Some of the parents say their kids are excited to come to a new environment.”
Less than a mile from Lincoln Elementary is Erik Ramstad Middle School, which also sustained severe damage from the floodwaters.
‘It looked just like a school’
Patrick Malnaa, 11, had looked forward to going to Ramstad. He and his family are active members of Vincent United Methodist Church in Minot.
“It’s kind of complicated,” began the sixth-grader who spent most of his summer mucking out his family’s flooded home.
“I’ve wanted to go to Ramstad since my brother and sister went there,” Malnaa said. “I’d already toured Ramstad.” He was excited about trying out for the swim team and eventually playing basketball.
Patrick Malnaa , 11, had looked forward to attending Erik Ramstad Middle School in Minot, N.D., before the school and the Malnaas’ home were heavily damaged by the flood. He is flanked by his mother, Taryce, and his father, Lester.
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“Now I’ll be going to school in the city auditorium.”
Malnaa worries about how the auditorium will measure up to his expectations. His best friends will not be there.
“I am one of three from my old school going to the auditorium,” he said. “All of my friends I’ve known for six years are going to another school.”
However, some of his concerns were eased during orientation when teachers took the time to ask each child about his or her house.
“When I went to orientation, I didn’t know who would be there or what it would be like. I thought it would be chaos.
“It wasn’t,” he reported, relieved. “It looked just like a school.”
Relief funds can be donated to UMCOR’s Spring Storm Relief, Advance number 3021326.
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.