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Students reuniting with their friends in Lee County classrooms

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Some students in Lee County were back in their classrooms on Monday after schools were closed for Hurricane Ian.

Many of the schools were damaged or didn’t have power and water, and it wasn’t safe to be in the buildings.

Students and parents at Trafalgar Elementary said they were thrilled to be able to go back. Even the school’s crossing guard said it was a relief to be back. It’s a sign of normalcy, and it got her up and active again.

Student compassion was on full display on the first day back. From 5 years old to 10 years old, it was easy to see how they care about their friends and what it means to be together again.

“Yay, school’s starting! Boo, school’s starting! Yay! Boo!” said Scarlett O’Neil, a Trafalgar Elementary School student. “Just in a couple of days, I’ll have a math test.”

Back to school means a “Boo” for school work but a “Yay” for friends.

Many students say they were worried about their friends while the storm was passing overhead.

“Because I didn’t want them to get hurt because they’re my favorite,” said Liam, a Trafalgar Elementary School student.

For the first time in weeks, students from 13 lucky Lee County schools got to feel the love of their friends like little Liam and so many others.

“One of my friends just gave everybody hugs today when they walked in the door,” said Scarlett.

Not only did they get hugs, but they also got emotional.

“Well, we kept talking about Hurricane Ian, and how people felt and how their feelings were in their homes destroyed, so we just kept talking about that and 10 things that were on our mind about Hurricane Ian, so it was pretty interesting,” said Arianna, a Trafalgar Elementary School student. “It felt good.”

For dads like Jon Paquette, it felt good to get back on schedule.

“It was hard to keep them occupied. I think for us, we have a lot of friends in the Iona and Fort Myers Beach area, even Sanibel couldn’t get there, so we’ve been trying to help where we could. For them, sometimes it doesn’t hit home completely. You know it’s we’re off of school for two weeks and returning to fill the time when you don’t have power and things, it’s a little harder, technology, these kids, these days,” said Paquette.

Moms like Crystal O’Neil will cherish the time shared off

“I mean, I wanted her to come back to school, you know because she needs schools, but it was nice. A nice little break,” said O’Neil.

This break taught kids and parents one lesson that can’t be learned in the classroom.

“We didn’t know Ian was going to be this bad, and look what happened, so I would say live your life, you know,” said Paquette.

The teachers and students are also back in the classroom at Tice Elementary School.

“I didn’t really like it because I just didn’t want to come back I thought it was going to be on Tuesday. If it was going to be on Tuesday, it would have had a good day on Tuesday,” said a Tice Elementary School student.

Not all kids feel that way, though. “I just miss going outside and playing with my friends,” said another Tice Elementary School student.

The principal of Tice Elementary School, Cherise Trent, said the school is easing the children back into the classroom so the kids will have plenty of time to catch up with their friends.

“Right now, we just want them reconnecting with each other and with their teachers and making sure their basic needs are being met,” said Trent.

“I feel like, for the kids, the routine is so important. And being here, some of them may have had more damage than others at home. So being here and feeling safe and with the family, because we are a family together, it just gives them that sense of relief,” said Sonia Urnezis, a teacher at Tice Elementary School.

Trent said she wants to ensure all students, staff, and teachers have all the necessary resources.

“It takes a lot to come back after what we’ve experienced. And you know, not every person is at the same place. Some are, you know, you said we’re maybe not impacted, and some lost their homes. So to have our staff back ready to work with our children. Our children are our ‘why.’ And so it’s very selfless that they have set aside their own needs,” said Trent.

Another 16 Lee County schools open on Tuesday. You can find a full list of school openings here.

There are 10 Lee County schools that are still waiting for a reopening date, but once air quality test results are back, they could come back online within three days.