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(Some) Lee County schools reopen


Tice Elementary is a tidy, putty-colored school located just south of the Caloosahatchee River. Its oldest part is a historical building in a Spanish Colonial style that dates back to 1927. So it’s pretty sturdy. But this Title I school did sustain some damage from Hurricane Ian. And its student’s families certainly did.

But today, the school opened its doors again, and the atmosphere was festive. Cheerful staffers greeted kids who were walking in or getting dropped off. Students smiled and giggled, happy to see their friends and their teachers.

Even the sheriff’s deputy standing outside busted a few salsa steps.

Loraine Bernardini is a clerk typist at the school. Today she was on the welcoming committee too.

Tice Elementary staffer Loraine Bernardini
Tice Elementary staffer Loraine Bernardini

“I am a greeter, any questions that they have, if they forgot something, I’m here to give them answers,” says Bernadini.

The school was clean and neat, the halls decorated with encouraging signs and posters. Coolers full of food stood open at the doors and kids who wanted breakfast could grab it as they went in.

The day was extra special for 3rd-grader Gustavo Lucio.

“Today’s my birthday,” he said.

3rd-grader Gustavo Lucio on his 9th birthday
3rd-grader Gustavo Lucio on his 9th birthday

He was looking forward to a couple of things:

“Getting good grades; being nice,” he said.

And getting back to his favorite subjects:

“Mostly science and math.”

But in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm that left thousands in the area homeless, many of the students have concerns beyond their schoolwork.

“I’m feeling kind of sad because I lost my house,” said 5th grader Flor Palma. She says she and her family have had to relocate temporarily because their home was flooded out. It was a relief to come back to school, she said. In class, she was at a table with some classmates, typing on a Chrome book. They were working on things to say to the community after all the loss wrought by the hurricane.

5th-grader Flor Palma
5th-grader Flor Palma

“Encouraging words, and positive words. Like you can keep trying. And God’s with everybody,” she said.

Flor’s teacher, Christina Stewart, had been worried about her students after the storm.

“I was worried about them. I didn’t have power and internet and service for so long. Those are the main ways we reach out to parents is email and phone calls and things like that. So that was hard. But it’s been so good to see all of them today and check in with them,” said Stewart.

Fifth grade teacher Christina Stewart
Fifth grade teacher Christina Stewart

She put on a donut party for them so they could chat and get caught up.

“Something like this always gives you a sense of appreciation for normalcy,” Stewart continued. “I think sometimes we work so hard to try to stand out or live a life that’s extra special. And something like this just shows you the beauty of being able to wake up and go to work. And get up and send an email to your colleagues with a funny meme. Just those normal things that you miss when you’re in the middle of a tragedy.”

For today, the students of Tice Elementary celebrated that normalcy. They are happy to be back to their classroom activities.

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