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Students spread cheer to ravaged school

May 17, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The electricity went out in Enterprise (Ala.) High School on March 1 at 1:12 p.m.

Outside, tragedy was lurking in a rainy, darkened sky where the wind had twisted into a deadly funnel cloud.

"The tornado actually touched down on the third hall of the high school," Marcia Tomberlin of Enterprise City Schools said of the storm that killed eight students there when the hallway collapsed.

Off campus, the tornado cut a path through the Coffee County town, destroying about 250 homes, Tomberlin said. One of the school district's elementary schools also was rendered uninhabitable.

"It just ravaged our town," said Tomberlin, who since has been tasked with handling the outpouring of support from across the nation prompted by the tornado's destruction.

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"So many folks have been so good to us," Tomberlin said. "We've received over $750,000 in contributions since March 1."

Martinsburg High School's student council on Tuesday was able to add $3,000 to that tally, thanks to a number of fundraisers they organized, beginning with a kickball tournament last spring,

"It just kind of hits close to home," MHS Student Council president Stephen Lowell said of the Alabama high school's plight about 80 miles from the Florida line.

Lowell said he felt personally connected to the tragedy because three of the students killed were in show choir, a school activity he had in common with them.

Another student killed was in band, two were cheerleaders and one played soccer, Tomberlin said.

"Praise them for having that kind of compassion," Tomberlin said of Martinsburg High School's students' efforts.

The idea to donate to Enterprise High School was prompted by a Channel One Network news broadcast at Martinsburg High School.

"The kids came back (to me) and said, 'Oh my gosh what can we do?'" said Yvonne Lantz, who along with high school faculty Wanda Miller and Karen Barrett are Student Council's advisers.

"One of the things we do here a lot is to give students a little view beyond the walls of their high school," Barrett said of the latest community service fundraising project.

Past fundraisers have been held for victims of Hurricane Andrew and the deadly tsunami in December 2004, Lantz said.

"Hopefully, there'll be no more disasters we have to raise money for," said Student Council president-elect Tara Petrucci of possible projects for next year.

In Enterprise, Tomberlin said school officials and students are doing the best they can attending classes at a local junior college and in portable classrooms about three miles from their old school, which will be demolished soon. Graduation will still be held at their old high school's football stadium, which had to be cleared of debris, she said.

"We still have lots of wounds that will take a long time to heal," Tomberlin said.

A new high school for 1,500 students is expected to take three years to build at a $59 million price tag. The state has promised $32 million, she said.

"We will rebuild these schools," Tomberlin said. "There is no small gesture right now."

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