Webbers Falls students ready to get down to business

Webbers Falls students find their lockers Monday on the first day of class. The start of school was delayed nearly a month as the school repaired massive flood damage.

WEBBERS FALLS, Okla. — Tron Steele said Webbers Falls looked like a brand new school when he brought his three elementary-age children there.

The fresh look came after months of moldy, muddy work, recovering the school from late May flood damage. All the library books and nearly all textbooks were destroyed. Bookshelves, desks, chairs and other ruined supplies had to be thrown out. 

Webbers Falls students ready to get down to business

Webbers Falls kindergarten teacher Lori Menie shushes her students during a break on their first day of school Monday. Overhead are character signs donated by Muskogee's Alice Robertson Junior High School.

Inside school buildings, mold covered walls, and the two wood basketball courts buckled like ocean waves.

"It's very amazing, considering the amount of time they worked, and the damage that was done," Steele said. "They worked a huge, huge amount of time. It's like a brand new school."

High School teacher Misti Ruckman said she, other teachers, students and townspeople put in "a lot of blood, sweat and tears" to get the building back into shape.

Freshman Hunter Britton recalled helping to move furniture and drywall. He called the work "a team effort."

Superintendent Dixie Swearingen said the school year normally starts in early August, but flood recovery work pushed the start until Sept. 3, then Sept. 9.

Webbers Falls students ready to get down to business

Boxed whiteboards are to be installed in Webbers Falls classrooms, replacing boards destroyed in late May floods.

Swearingen marveled at how people hustled to meet the Sept. 9 goal. She said that in that final week, "we ended up hanging the rest of the classroom doors."

"We thought we had saved all our doorknobs. but we ended up needing 15 of them. That was Friday," she said. "The fire marshal came out on Friday evening. I didn't get to go to the first home football game because I had to deal with the fire marshal, and I was grateful he was here."

Swearingen said school days are starting earlier each morning to make up for the lost time.

Schools from all over donated books, desks and other supplies, she said.

"Idabel, Warner — there are so many different schools that if I were to name them all, I'd leave some off — Haileyville, Durant, McAlester," Swearingen said.

Maroon and gray signs proclaiming qualities such as "ENTHUSIASTIC" or "SINCERE," came from Muskogee's Alice Robertson Junior High, which is temporarily closed pending an October bond issue. The signs were Rougher green and other colors when they hung at ARJH.

"Mr. Hicks, one of our teachers, took them apart and spray-painted them maroon and gray," Swearingen said.

Webbers Falls students ready to get down to business

A Webbers Falls student fills a container at a new water fountain at the school. 

Muskogee Public Schools Chief Operating and Technology Officer Eric Wells said the district also donated computer tables, file cabinets from MPS' digital conversion and other items.

“We understand that helping others is the right thing to do when disaster strikes,” Wells said. “With our school location changes we had items that Webbers Falls could benefit from.”

Swearingen said some Smart Boards were donated, but the school needs software and technological expertise to install them in the classrooms.

In mid-August, the Clorox bleach company donated $30,000 to help with school cleaning and restoration. Clorox workers spent the day helping paint walls. 

Principal Lisa Ward said people donated more than 5,000 books to restock the school library. People also donated shelving.

"We received donations from all over the state, from many, many schools," she said. "Probably our biggest library books donation came from Gilcrease Elementary out of Tulsa. They're closing that down. We took their entire library."

MaeDean Erb, elementary testing coordinator and third- through fifth-grade interventionist, said nearly everything in her classroom is donated. 

Webbers Falls students ready to get down to business

Webbers Falls School interventionist and testing coordinator MaeDean Erb says "almost every single thing" in her classroom has been donated to replace items lost in late May floods.

"You can almost not name a school that hasn't sent something," Erb said. "For a while, we'd be in our boots and our gloves and our masks working, and somebody would pull up to donate, and we'd have to store a lot of it downtown."

Ruckman said the school was able to salvage classroom computers and pack them away. 

"We cleaned the cords that had hung in the water," she said. "The tables also were salvaged. If you look, you could see rust where they sat in the water."

Girls basketball coach Jerry Ward said the basketball courts in both gyms have been replaced and are now being stained, coated and painted.

Swearingen said work still needs to be done, including installation of bulletin boards and interactive digital white boards.

"I just feel blessed we're able to open our doors today," she said. 

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