On Thursday morning, students and staff from two Lee County schools damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Ian headed back to class at San Carlos Park Elementary.
Lee County School Superintendent Christopher Bernier vowed to keep the students from the Sanibel School and Fort Myers Beach Elementary together, even though it’s impossible for them to return to their old buildings. After three difficult weeks, teachers and students from the destroyed schools will be together again, and the folks at San Carlos Park Elementary say it’s an honor to host them.
“We thought, you know, what would we want if we were in their shoes? And that is finding a place that you feel like home,” said Christy Kutz, principal of San Carlos Park Elementary.
Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel will rebuild eventually, but life on those islands will never be the same. Sherri Skipper, a literacy coach at Fort Myers Beach Elementary, hopes getting back to school will help the students realize that everything is going to be OK. Some of them have suffered greatly.
“We’ve had just an outpouring of love and affection from the community, Skipper said. “It’s gonna be emotional to see our children for the first time, because not only have many of them lost their homes, they lost their school home as well.”
Skipper showed WINK News the classroom that will now serve as the new Fort Myers Beach Elementary School office. She pointed out the bulletin board.
“That was all we were able to salvage out of our entire school,” Skipper said.
Staff and students at San Carlos Park Elementary greeted everyone with gifts. There were tables with everything from bookbags to school supplies and other essentials they may have lost in the storm.
“We know that school is a safe place for kids, and we wanted to make them feel welcome and make them have that space that felt like their own, in their own school community,” Kutz said.
San Carlos Park is an ideal location: The elementary school’s campus has an empty building, so Fort Myers Beach Elementary teachers and students will take over the first floor, while those from the Sanibel School will use the second. Buses bring them all there.
Both principals say they expect attendance to be way down because so many people lost their homes and moved or transferred their kids to other schools.