(Photo: Reuters / Eric Thayer)
Students in the town of Joplin, Mo., returned to school yesterday as the city continues its attempt at a return to normalcy following the devastating EF-5 tornado that ravaged the town on May 22. What isn't normal, however, is the renovated department store in a local mall that has temporarily become the Joplin Public Schools' new high school.
Greg Boyd, Joplin High School's assistant principal, told The Associated Press that school officials expect to call North Park Mall the school's home for the next three years.
Interestingly, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Embassy in Washington, D.C. has offered to donate up to $1 million toward the new school building and the purchase of new laptop computers for all of the high school's students.
The embassy's initial $500,000 donation will go toward Joplin Public Schools' “One-to-One” initiative, which established the goal of providing laptops for each of the high school's 2,200 students. The UAE will also match any other outside donations toward the initiative up to $500,000, for a total of $1 million.
Kim Vann, director of Community Development for Joplin Public Schools, told The Christian Post that outside donors have so far added another $75,000, which the UAE will match. Donations will be accepted through Aug. 31.
“We are so fortunate to have the support from the UAE Embassy,” says Dr. C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin schools. “This contribution will not only provide technology to Joplin High School, but also help prepare our students for 21st century jobs.”
Half of the schools and an administration building in the Joplin district were damaged in the storm. Three facilities were rendered unusable by the tornado, the high school being one of them. The laptops have totally replaced any paper textbooks previously used by the school, said Vann.
"The attitude in the schools yesterday and today is magnificent,” Huff said. “Kids are happy to see other kids, they're happy to see their teachers.”
She added that the generous donation of technology has caused a considerable amount of excitement as well.
“The high school kids were just absolutely elated and excited about receiving the computers and about what this will mean for their education. Teachers are excited about the opportunity to teach in this 21st-century learning environment. It's a very positive, upbeat attitude," she said.
The UAE and Joplin's school system will likely maintain a partnership even after the One-to-One initiative is over, as they hope to develop programs that will deepen the cultural understanding between the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
In addition to helping Joplin, the UAE has also aided victims of the earthquakes in Haiti, Pakistan and Japan, and even helped the U.S. with resources following Hurricane Katrina.
Vann said Joplin Public Schools lost seven students and one staff member to the tornado, all of which were memorialized at the “I Am Joplin” event that was held earlier this month. In total, 160 people lost their lives in Joplin as a direct result of the tornado.