Montgomery Christian School recovers after devastating flood
Tuscaloosa News, The (AL)
Montgomery Christian School installed cameras just in time for Pam McLemore, the school's executive director, to watch the building flood.
On Aug. 28, a flash flood from heavy rains entered the school, causing major damage to the building, she said.
The flood came from two ditches overflowing and entering the property from the playground side of the school. One of the swings was underwater.
The water then entered the building and flooded the classrooms. It destroyed materials for kindergarteners and first-graders, whose books and other items are stored on the lowest shelves for easy reach.
"I'm always an educator, so I'm like, OK, I need to come up with some good analogies with how much we need and love water and also what a bummer it is when we are damaged by that goodness of water," McLemore said.
Since then, school administrators, who have always sought close relationships with families, have seen the community step up to help them by volunteering time and resources.
The principal's office sits in the lowest point of the school. McLemore recalled watching on video a piece of paper flow through the building before turning into the office.
The flood destroyed lesson plans and furniture. But it also led to an outpouring of support. And despite the destruction, families and employees of Montgomery Christian School say their devotion to the institution — and their faith that God is watching out for them — remains unshaken.
When asked about the first few hours, McLemore made a distressed face.
The flood happened on a Sunday, just a few weeks after the start of school.
She remembered coming to the school and not believing that all of the flooding came from just the ditches. Her husband walked around the roof in the pouring rain trying to find a leak.
Most of the school is carpeted and was drenched with ditch water, which had to be treated as potentially contaminated.Items were piled up in a room just beyond the flood to be tallied for insurance adjusters.
Many of the laptops were fine, but they were told to not even try the cords at risk of electrocuting themselves.200-page handwritten lesson plans were destroyed. Much of the principal's office furniture had to be replaced.
"I said 'lesson plan' ... and then I've put how much the paper was worth," McLemore said, as she recalled filling out the insurance paperwork."And, then, I'd write it something like the heart and soul of the teacher within working... priceless."
First-grade teacher Leisa Harrison said that she returned and found pieces of paper on her furniture drying out. 200 of her books were ruined.
But the water spared the solid wood dresser — constructed by her late husband — where she stores school supplies.
The school closed for a week.
Montgomery Christian School spent its first 10 years on the third floor of Trinity Church. The church welcomed them back after the flood, temporarily hosting the school's 99 students.
The students adapted well to the switch in the schedule, and the parents were understanding. McLemore worried about their kindergarteners, who now had a drastic change after their first ever few weeks of school.
Shawntrice Moore, whose son attends Montgomery Christian School as a third grader, said that she was worried about the transition. As it turned out, he loved attending the church for school.
"It was a very easy transition," Moore said about her son. "He actually loved it."
Harrison found the transition more difficult. For years, her classroom had been mostly untouched.
In her temporary classroom, she was not sure where everything she needed was or if she even still had what she was looking for anymore.
"It was a challenge, because you would go, we gathered up what we thought we would need that wasn't ruined," she said. "Really, we didn't know what we had and what we didn't."
Part of Montgomery Christian School's mission is to include the whole family. They have classes for parents and make it a point to get to know the families of the students.
When the flood hit the school, families volunteered to help clean the school up. Some parents worked to pack boxes. The school's Amazon wish list was quickly fulfilled.
"But, we're educating, which is..." McLemore said.
"The goal," said Ann Amster, development coordinator at the school.
"Why we're here," McLemore said at the same time.
"The students, families, teachers and community, of course, because we couldn't do it without all of those partnerships," Amster finished.
Brooke Henninger has two children who currently attend Montgomery Christian School. She has two more who attended and now go to Montgomery Public Schools' magnet schools.
Her older children had attended Montgomery Christian School back when it was still in Trinity Presbyterian Church. Her younger children did not understand the significance.
"They both attended MCS while it was at Trinity, and, so, our younger two who are currently at MCS had never experienced that," she said.
When Shawntrice Moore first heard about the flood, she had no sense of how bad the damage was to the school. Once she learned, she immediately offered her to help.
It was important to her that she had the opportunity to give back to the school that had given her family so much.
"Itwas a true blessing, and it was a great feeling to know that my son and I could be a part of helping the school out because the school is such a blessing," she said.
The families of students were not the only ones who got involved.
McLemore pointed out a new bookshelf in the principal's office: It was donated by Montgomery Academy. Several hundred dollars' worth of surge protectors were donated by the Church of the Highlands.
McLemore's grandfather-in-law had passed and left her family his office furniture. So, his furniture became her furniture at home, and her furniture became the principal's furniture.
Families, teachers and school administrators all mentioned their belief that it was important for their children to rally around a cause like their community did after the flood.
"It takes a village to raise a child and so I wanted to be a part of that village," Moore said.
In some ways, the school was lucky.
The school needed 510 carpet squares.The people who occupied the space before them had ordered extra — 500 extra — so the school only needed to wait for 10. A similar situation happened with the tiles they ordered.The school has only been in its current location for a few years.
The flood water stopped before it hit the library.
"I called the librarian, and she's like, 'Did it hit the library?" McLemore said.
A lot of the curriculum was ruined, whether it was handwritten or mass produced and low to the ground.
The Association of Christian Schools International,the school's accreditor, worked with them. By the time the Montgomery Advertiser visited the school, textbooks were back to being stored on shelves and on the seat-back pockets of first graders.
They believed they were looking at three weeks being displaced from their building.But the contractors and builders finished early.McLemore said the crew loved the school's mission and worked with them.