POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – On Monday, for the first time since a destructive EF-2 tornado ripped through Kathleen Middle School, students were able to return to class.
The Lakeland school suffered significant tornado damage, including damage to the roof and twelve classrooms.
Since then the Polk County School District brought in temporary, portable classrooms to allow students to return.
On Monday morning, Principal Sheila Gregory told reporters the return went well.
“That was probably the quickest class change we’ve ever had. We had nobody dilly-dallying, even though they had to go to the north 40 out here to get to the last portables. When they got into the portables, they were amazed to see, they’re nice,” said Gregory.
The smooth transition back to class is exactly what Gregory was hoping for because she’s been through this before and knows what an impact an event like this can have on students.
“I went to Auburndale High School in 1979, when the tornadoes came through and some of the experiences that I had then, it kept kind of resonating in the back of my brain. I didn’t want to do the double sessions. I wanted to be back in my school with my peers,” said Gregory.
Monday, teachers found out many of their students were also directly impacted by the storm in their own homes.
“One student was telling us about how he was in a closet with his family and it sounded like a train. I’ve never actually heard a tornado, but apparently it sounds like a train,” said eighth-grade reading teacher Yolanda Webster, who’s classroom was among the most severely damaged inside the school.
“This was a very devastating event that happened and it was very emotional for me, because the community was there for support, it made it easier for me,” said Webster.
Construction to make repairs at the school is expected to take up to one year.
To help: a list of requested items and drop-off locations can be found here.