Students at Diplomat Middle happy to return, despite school damage

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A bare hallway in Diplomat Middle School post-Ian. Credit: WINK News

Children at Diplomat Middle School returned to their classrooms for the first time in over a month Tuesday morning, but the buildings they returned to did not look like they did before Hurricane Ian.

Diplomat Middle, located at 1039 NE 16th Terrace, had a cracked exterior, missing ceiling tiles and ripped-up flooring. Principal Maura Bennington told WINK News she was both excited and nervous for students to return. Teachers at Diplomat Middle School held a zoom call with students on Wednesday, and the students’ main questions had to do with whether they would still be in the same classroom and what the inside of the school looks like.

Staff at both Diplomat Middle and Lexington Middle returned to their buildings on Halloween and spent the day checking on equipment, rearranging classrooms and talking with students. 6th grade U.S. history teacher Anna Polakiewicz says they know that for some of her students, the rest of their lives at school and home will not be the same.

“I lost my beautiful window—we had a lot of water damage, I think from the ceiling tiles. We lost a lot of ceiling tiles, and we also lost the carpet,” Polakiewicz said. “I hope that the kids that really lost a lot are OK and I hope that I get to see them, because it was hard for all of us, but it’ll be good.”

On Oct. 20, Bennington sent a letter informing families that the following day they would begin Florida Virtual School. Students are now required to complete at least 14 days.
After that, teachers will re-evaluate their lesson plans.

Polakiewicz says that even though things are very different, her students are just excited to be together again.

“They just want to know what’s going on, and when they’re going to come back, and what it’s going to look like, and are we going to be in the same room,” Polakiewicz said. “Oh, I’ve heard that plenty of times: ‘Are we going to be in the same classroom?’ Yes, everything is the same; our furniture is still here… just a little different, but they’ll be happy to be back. They will.”

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