LUMBERTON, N.C. (WNCN) — Robeson County educators hope Halloween candy will lift morale as students return for the first time since Hurricane Matthew.
“I think any time you can give kids treats it’s always a good thing,” superintendent Tommy Lowry said.
“We’re just happy to be back and be able to start back. We hadn’t really thought about tomorrow as Halloween until probably Friday.”
The superintendent, school board member Dwayne Smith, and some teachers delivered boxes of candy to principals at campuses across the county Sunday afternoon. It came from a fundraiser in Charlotte, where Girl Scouts partnered with organizers originally from Lumberton to send cheer.
Robeson County students missed 15 days of school following a storm that flooded many facilities. West Lumberton Elementary will remain closed due to extensive damage. Its students will go to class in a wing at Lumberton Junior HIgh.
Teachers from West Lumberton spent part of Friday at Tanglewood Elementary.
“We definitely want to help our sister school, West Lumberton, in anything we can do, we want to help them get back on track,” Tanglewood principal Joanna Hunt said.
“One of my staff members came up with the idea that she wanted to do something for West Lumberton, so she bought their lunch, and we brought them here and we ate together in the cafeteria. It was really a very special time to bond with that school, and to hug them and love on them and cry with them.”
Some Tanglewood teachers used colorful sidewalk chalk to write giant welcome back notes outside the front door of the school. It is covered in fall decorations, and the principal said several teachers were eager to get back to their classrooms to hang Halloween banners and balloons for the first day back.
Hunt said the recovery efforts brought the staff together, and she can’t wait to see the students.
“I’ve missed them, I’ve been worried about them. I’m ready to just give them a hug and make sure they’re okay. It’s a little emotional,” Hunt said.
School board member Dwayne Smith said getting campuses clean and usable has been an almost everyday effort.
“A lot of the principals around here, they’re very ready to be getting back to school,” Smith said.
“We have a great county, we’ve been through a lot, but we’re going to be okay. I know everybody’s excited. Parents are excited. I have a little boy at home and he’s excited. So we’re all looking forward to at least starting back to school.”
He said he hopes having Halloween as the first day back will help with morale, along with the candy. He also delivered cases of bottled water to several schools.
“Some people are still homeless at the present time, but trying to occupy the kids in a positive aspect is what we’re looking at doing,” Smith said.
Some students who lost their homes and are currently staying elsewhere may find themselves attending unfamiliar schools Monday.
Ramon Sandoval was a student at W.H. Knuckles Elementary, and said he enjoyed being out of school. However, his caretaker Tamela Hunt said Sandoval is anxious about changing to a new school with new classmates.
“We’ll be going to stay with my son, so we’ll be putting him in Long Branch School now, because we don’t have anywhere else to go,” Hunt said.
“He wanted to go back to Knuckles, but we’re way out there in the country so there’s no way of commuting him back and forth.”
Other parents like Lisa Jones worry about how much education their children missed during the closure.
“A lot of concerns. I just wonder how they’re going to do when it comes time for the end of semester, taking their end of semester tests,” said Jones, the mother of a high school junior.
“They have to go through more of the testing than some of the elementary kids do, and it’s kind of tougher on a high school kid than it is on an elementary kid. I just don’t want her to fail instead of excelling, is what worries me the most.”
However, Jones said she would like for the legislature to waive the missed days rather than requiring the schools to make up all the lost time. It’s something under consideration, and Governor Pat McCrory met with Superintendent Lowry to discuss the possibility.
Lowry said he hopes the legislature will forgive all 15 days.
“We’re hoping that they will do something, last I heard was when they go back in January, but they may call a special session to address these days,” the superintendent said.
“We’ll see what they tell us.”
Robeson County Schools will be on a two hour delay Monday morning. Some bus stops have changed — so parents should check their particular routes.