By Friday, Fremont’s school facilities were getting prepared for their first full week of classes since this past week’s flooding began, kicking off days of volunteer efforts from staff, students and families.
With the help of student volunteers from Fremont High School, cots were removed from the Fremont Middle School building, which, since last Saturday, had been a shelter for those displaced by the floods. The American Red Cross was establishing a new consolidated shelter at the old J.C. Penney building on east 23rd Street.
A few days earlier, Clarmar Elementary School had been relieved of its duties as a volunteer registration center. That operation is now at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
No damage was reported at Washington Elementary, the only Fremont Public Schools facility that was located at the heart of the flooding, according to Superintendent Mark Shepard. Water had come right up to the front entrance last Saturday, but had not entered the building, he said.
No facilities at Fremont Public Schools or within the Archbishop Bergan school system were damaged, school officials said.
And as Fremont Middle School housed displaced families this past week, at Archbishop Bergan Elementary School, families, staff and students sought to help feed them. They filled the kitchen, cooking meals that were distributed to families, first responders and others across the city. By Friday, that operation had also moved to St. Patrick’s Church, taken over by an organization called the World Central Kitchen.
While Monday would mark a return to a normal school routine, school officials said that these school communities still have work in front of them — there is more volunteering to be done, especially as some students’ families who have been affected look to recover as well.
“This isn’t going to go away,” said Archbishop Bergan Principal Dan Koenig. “This is going to have to be a concerted effort for months to come to continue to help these families.”
A return to normal — with some changes
Fremont Public Schools had been on spring break this past week throughout the flooding, so students didn’t miss any class as a result of weather conditions.
But while students would return to class as usual on Monday, there were some important updates, according to Shepard.
Crisis team members would be available at every school site to help students re-adjust to a normal schedule. Case management resources will be available at each of the school sites both Monday and Tuesday before and after school to set up sessions with families and answer questions.
Bus routes would also be affected as some routes still remained difficult to pass. Affected individuals would be contacted and given an alternative pickup location. The school district was working with the Red Cross to identify where displaced students were being housed so that transportation could be provided.
By early next week, a Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC) would be established inside the east meeting room of the district’s administrative building on east Ninth Street. There, people could come and work with various agencies to get the resources they need to recover. That would include various agencies here in town, as well as the Red Cross, FEMA and others. The district was currently making arrangements with other entities who had reserved that room for events that would now be relocated.
Several district events have been rescheduled. The National Honor Society Induction Ceremony had been scheduled for Monday night, but that has been postponed. Same with a Board of Education reception that was set for Tuesday night.
Most notably, two of three performances of Fremont High School’s production of the musical “Newsies” had to be rescheduled due to the flooding. They will now be held on March 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m.
And the district has added a new third performance on March 31 at 2 p.m. with a special twist: it will be free to first responders, volunteers and their families. Call the high school activities office at (402) 727-3063 for more information and to reserve a seat.
Archbishop Bergan, meanwhile, missed two days of schools this week, on Monday and Tuesday, but resumed classes on Wednesday. It has had its guidance team on hand to help students and Koenig encouraged the school community to reach out to the school if they were aware of anyone who needs assistance.
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There had been no schedule changes at this point going into next week, but Koenig warned that could change — baseball, track and other spring sports events could be canceled based on the conditions of the fields.
Amid the travesties of the flooding was at least one small blessing, according to Shepard: Fremont Public School families and staff were on spring break. That gave the school community an opportunity to focus on assessing their own needs — and to give back to others.
It also freed up the Fremont Middle School to be used as a shelter for displaced residents across the county since last Saturday.
Over the course of this week, the facility served well over 200 different people averaging about 135 people per day, Shepard said. At its peak, the shelter accommodated 158 individuals in one night.
Inside the shelter, guests could come to shower, pick up donated clothing or hygiene items or sleep on one of the hundreds of cots set up in the school gymnasium. It was staffed 100 percent with Fremont Public Schools employees, Shepard said.
Students, activities groups and athletic teams from all area schools — including Archbishop Bergan and Midland University — also showed up to help at the Middle School shelter and elsewhere, unloading supplies and providing other services.
On Tuesday night, Shepard said, a donor from North Platte had arrived in Fremont with a truck filled with supplies. Within 15 minutes, Shepard said, about 100 volunteers had arrived to unload dozens of pallets of donated materials.
“That process has been replicated now at least three more times that I’m aware of,” Shepard said.
Fremont students continued their volunteerism on Friday. The Fremont High School boys track team swarmed the Middle School Gymnasium Friday morning to break down cots and clean up the area. Meanwhile, at the former site of J.C. Penney’s on 23rd Street, the girls track team set up hundreds of cots and helped unload pallets worth of food, preparing the facility to become the new shelter for displaced residents.
“We’ve had a volunteer effort that’s been amazing throughout the community,” Shepard said. “We’ve had not only our students and families involved but also some Archbishop Bergan students and athletic teams involved. I think it says a lot about Fremont and a lot about our community and the way that we support each other.”
And indeed, Archbishop Bergan’s community was busy helping their neighbors, too.
Koenig said the decision to close school on Monday and Tuesday was two-fold.
“We tried to give our kids and our staff a chance to go out in the community and assist,” he said. “It was two-fold. We do have a number of families who live out of town and were unable to access or get into town, as well as to be able to go volunteer.”
Within the kitchen at Archbishop Bergan Elementary School, an army of volunteers consisting of students, Bergan staff and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church parish families cooked up at least 1,500 meals, Koenig said.
The meals were then taken out into the community, and distributed to all in need: displaced families, emergency responders, city workers and more. Volunteers included the Bergan Knights Wrestling team.
“We knew that everybody was going to be busy,” Koenig said. “We wanted to make sure that we were out there among them as well.”