Sipsey School bouncing back after tornado
by James Phillips
May 10, 2011 | 4227 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sipsey teacher Gloria Chatman speaks with fifth-grade student Brooke Lee as she takes boxes of juice to be added to food boxes the school is sending home with students affected by the April 27 tornado. - Photo by: James Phillips
Sipsey teacher Gloria Chatman speaks with fifth-grade student Brooke Lee as she takes boxes of juice to be added to food boxes the school is sending home with students affected by the April 27 tornado. - Photo by: James Phillips
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SIPSEY -- For the first time since a tornado destroyed much of its community on April 27, Sipsey School was back in session Monday.

Principal Donnie Bridges said classes resuming was a positive for his students.

"We've got our school back on schedule, and our students are getting back into their routine," he said. "We needed to get back going. All of the kids seemed so happy to come to school this morning. It was great to see them all."

More than 50 homes were destroyed in the town, and two Sipsey residents lost their lives in the storm.

The small elementary and middle school in east Walker County brought in extra counselors Monday morning to help students struggling to get through the trauma caused by the storm, Bridges said.

Donna Burkes, the school's counselor, said counselors from Townley and Curry elementary schools worked with her Monday to help several students who needed to talk.

"We had 10 to 15 kids who needed help sorting through their feelings," she said. "We set up a counseling center in the library and had some small group sessions. It was very productive and I think the children felt better after sharing with us."

In the days since the tornado, Bridges said the school has become a dropoff location for supplies. The gymnasium and front lawn were filled with all sorts of items Monday, and he said community members can come get needed items after receiving a voucher at the Sipsey Community Center. Other drop-off sites in Sipsey include the fire department and Pisgah Baptist Church.

"I've been so moved by the outpouring of donations that we've received," he said. "We've had things sent from as far away as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We've also received a lot of items from south Alabama. Those folks had been through Katrina, and they knew exactly what we would need."

Bridges, who has been the school's principal for 20 years, said he called teachers in the day after the storm to check on their students.

"Our teachers care about these young people," he said. "They treat them like they were their own children. I called them in, but they all wanted to be here. They checked on their students, and some of the students even wanted to come on back to the school. We've had some around here during the days that we haven't had class, but a large number of them were out helping in the community."

In his 34 years at the school, Bridges said he's never seen the community as close as it is now.

"I'm so proud of our community," he said. "This has always been a close-knit town, but this tragedy has brought us so much closer. I can't say enough about the way everyone has worked together."