Students, staff from Hector A. Cafferata Elementary reunite in portables

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On Monday, Hector A. Cafferata Jr. Elementary School students and staff reunited in portable classrooms for the first time since Hurricane Ian.

The Cape Coral school couldn’t be used after the hurricane because of the severe damage it sustained, but hundreds of children who went there finally came back together, just not in the same building. Dr. Jason Kurtz, the principal of Hector A. Cafferata Elementary, says it’s been taking a toll on the staff and students. Since Ian, students have been split between Hancock Creek Elementary and Pelican Elementary. The School District of Lee County is excited to offer these elementary school students the opportunity to be back together again.

The district put 46 portables on the property of Cape Coral Technical College, right next to the damaged elementary school.

The portable campus will be leased for two years by the school district so they can have time to determine what will happen to the original campus.

For the last two weeks, teachers have been moving their supplies and restructuring their classrooms ahead of students’ Monday morning return. Hector A. Cafferata sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Ian, from water infiltration throughout both floors to a torn roof. Monday is the day everyone has been waiting for when their long separation finally ends.

Hector A. Cafferata seen from above after being damaged by Hurricane Ian. Credit: WINK News

“Obviously, a lot has happened at the building,” Kurtz said. “This is just the building; Hector Cafferata Elementary School is y’all and our students.”

Long-term ideas for the school will be presented in January. But Superintendent Christopher Bernier says the state is not making changes to its testing schedule, and they have a responsibility to get these students back into a school building.

When the teachers returned to their classrooms this month to set up for students returning, it was very difficult for them to take in what Ian did to their beloved building.

“I don’t even know what to take,” said teacher Ingrid Mugica. “They said to take stuff, but I am so overwhelmed right now. You know, this is something that I’ve done for many years, and to see it destroyed like this is very painful. So, it’s not that it’s worse than what I thought; it’s just painful. Period.”

For parents like Hadasa Palacios, it’s a relief. WINK News spoke with her right after she dropped her daughter off at school. Palacios says making the trek to Hancock Creek Elementary School for the last few months was hard, so she and her daughter eagerly awaited a return to Hector A. Cafferata Elementary, or somewhere closer to it.

“We are through the roof, we are so excited; we brought her teacher an apple,” Palacios said. “She was with her teacher, but it’s not the same. You know, all of the students were separate and over there in the other school. While we were so excited to be there, of course, because they were hosting us, but they have different ways of doing things. Over there, they don’t have uniform; our kids have uniform. So, it’s nice for them to be reunited as a family.”

Mujica’s students are just as grateful to be reunited.

“We feel really happy because we get to start learning again and get together again,” said Anniston Tomanen, a student at Hector A. Cafferata Elementary.

For Mujica, this is progress.

“The first time I saw destruction,” Mujica said. “Right now, I see building, I see growing, I see stepping forward. I see moving on. I see lightning and that’s amazing.”

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