WEST, Texas — Wednesday’s explosion at West Fertilizer Company destroyed the town’s intermediate school and left three out of four West ISD campuses unusable.
But nearly 800 students returned to the classroom on Monday for the first time since the blast, with the help of good neighbors in nine area school districts.
“All the area superintendents in Region 12 met and came together. We had a vacant building, and we’re 10 minutes from them. This is the best thing for them,” Wesly Holt, public information officer for Connally ISD, said.
More than 1,000 people in the neighboring CISD worked around the clock to make the victims of the West disaster feel at home.
“People have been coming from everywhere bringing desks, food and donations,” said CISD employee Larry Barber.
The whole state is getting involved including school districts from the Houston area. The Spring Independent School District sent 13 buses to help transport students from West to Connally.
The Connally Cadets and the West Trojans are rivals in sports. But that fierce competition is now on the sidelines.
Valerie and Mike Willis visited a school 13 miles south in Waco set up for middle and high school students from West on Sunday. Their two children —Tyler, a senior at West High School and Rachel, an eighth-grader at the middle school — will finish their school year here.
“Oh my gosh, look!” Valerie whispered as she peeked into a classroom in disbelief.
The desks are ready with binders, paper and pencils; workers even put up a sign relabeling the building “West Middle/High School,” complete with the school’s logo.
Students made ribbons in West colors and added welcome signs to lockers and hallways.
The Willises were overwhelmed by the welcome their two children would be getting on Monday morning.
“It’s just humbling, and I just wanted to see it with my own eyes; pictures just don’t do it justice,” Valerie Willis said. “It’s absolutely great!”
When the students got off the bus Monday, teachers were there to greet them with handshakes and hugs.
“We’re ready. We had a meeting yesterday, and we looked at a plan that provides the maximum amount of support for students that need it, the staff that needs it, the citizens that need it,” Jennifer Yanek, director of Region 12 counselors, said. “We have counselors that are staged in every room.”
Yankek is not only a counselor, but a victim. Her home is located just across from the plant and sustained considerable damage.
The Texas Education Agency said STAAR testing for West students will be put on hold for the time being.
West ISD parents were getting e-mails from the district on Sunday with all the details they need about the temporary classrooms, complete with bus information and drop-off locations.
Students from pre-K to sixth grade will continue to attend school on the West Elementary campus, which was not damaged in the fertilizer plant explosion. vThe West ISD issued a statement requesting only monetary donations from now on; it has enough school supplies and materials.
Point West Bank and Trust (254-826-5333) and State National Bank (254-826-3741) are accepting cash donations on behalf of the school district.