KERSHAW COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) -North Central High School students are returning to class for the first time, Wednesday, Jan. 15 after a confirmed tornado ripped through Kershaw County over the weekend, causing severe damage to North Central High.
Now, students and staff are preparing to head back to class but in a different building.
District officials have announced that the students will spend at least the rest of the school year at the district’s vocational building, which is about a 15-20 minute drive from North Central High School. The students were already scheduled to be out of school Monday and Tuesday, this week.
Today was all about starting fresh with new classrooms, new supplies, and new schedules. For teachers and students, today meant coming together for the first time and talking about what it felt like to lose their school.
Valerie Johnson, a drama teacher, spent today’s class time talking to students about how they felt about losing their school. Many of the students expressed disbelief and shock.
“This is so traumatic and I know everyone is like, kids are so resilient, but honestly, these babies are really hurting so it's going to take a little bit of time to get them where they need to be,” Johnson said.
Johnson said it’s been hard for the teachers too.
“It’s been an emotional day, many of the teachers went to North Central High School.”
Johnson’s drama class was the hardest hit, with the entire wall and roof being torn out. Yesterday she told me she broke down when she saw her classroom for this first time and got to walk inside.
“I felt sick. It was terrible. I can’t even put into words how hard it was to see this,” Johnson said
Despite the rubble, a few of her items, like her singing frog and music speaker survived. The items now sit on her desk alongside a brick taken by a student from the rubble in her class and made into something beautiful.
“It just struck me. And I just broke down and just burst into tears when she gave it to me,” Johnson said.
The brick, once part of her wall, is now painted with a picture of the little mermaid. It’s the last musical Johnson directed at the school. The brick also has the date of the tornado painted onto its side.
“A piece of my room with a piece of my room on it,” Johnson said.
The brick now serves as a reminder to her and her students every day moving forward.
“It symbolizes that we are going to come back, we are going to better than ever, you know Knight strong, we are going to rebuild, everything is going to be as amazing as it was before,” Johnson said.
Superintendent of Kershaw County Schools, Dr. Shane Robbins, says Wednesday will mostly give students and staff a chance to get used to the new building and their new classroom schedules.
While the rest of the district will begin on delayed start times -- something done every Wednesday – NCHS students are being asked to arrive at the vocational building at 8:00, Wednesday morning, rather than the 8:40 AM delayed start time for other high schools in the district. School will let out at 2:40 PM.
The National Weather Service confirmed an EF2 tornado tore through Kershaw County, Saturday night, with winds reaching 130 MPH.
Video and drone footage show the incredible damage left behind at North Central High School, as students prepare to finish out the school year in a completely different building.
“It’s going to be a sad day, altogether. I don’t think they’re going to be as happy. I’ve seen on social media, they’re not happy about it,” North Central High School senior Madison Dixon said.
Aleigha Ross is also a senior, and said, “It’s going to be very hard and we’re just going to have to be there for each other and love on each other as best as we can.”
“I’m glad that we have the support that we do at our school, and honestly, I was scared that they were going to separate us between schools, but we do get to stay together and move to another facility,”another NCHS senior, Jared Chavez said.
We’re told many students are planning to show up, Wednesday, in green in gold, the school colors, to show they’re Knight Strong no matter what building they’re in.
The North Central High School building had been in operation for the last 40 years, so this will be a drastic change for not only the students, but also staff members, some who have worked in that building for more than a decade.
“It’s going to be chaotic, I think. People aren’t good with change, and that’s normal and I think that we’re just going to have to make a positive situation out of something negative. It’s not going to be the same and it’s going to be hard,” Ross said.
Dr. Robbins said there is help available to parents who may not be able to make the extended drive to the vocational building.
He said, “Families live in the northern part of the county and now all of a sudden we’ve just doubled their drive, and so if parents don’t have the ability for their kids to do that, we’ll pick them up on the bus and so we’ve tried to make that known to them,” adding that parents concerned with the longer distance should contact the district.
Early estimates suggest there could be millions of dollars worth of damage to the NCHS building.
A vigil will be held at the North Central Middle School at 6 p.m. Wednesday for a prayer vigil.
The vocational building is located at 874 Vocational Lane, Camden, SC 29020.