Eye on KELOLAND: Burke strong


It’s been just over a month since a tornado and powerful winds hit a small KELOLAND town in Gregory County.

The storm left an extensive trail of damage, hitting homes, businesses and school buildings.

The district pushed back its start date by two weeks to make repairs and rearrangements.

The sounds wafting through a neighboring church might have you thinking a Sunday service is underway.  

But the football jerseys in the pews and the backpacks lining the aisles tell a different story.

It’s actually choir class for the students in the Burke School District.

Senior Haley Benter is one of the students settling into the unique classroom.

“The sound that we make sounds better with the high ceilings and everything so I think it’s actually pretty good for us,” Burke Senior Haley Benter said.

The powerful August storm forced Rachelle Stephens and her students into the sanctuary.

“My classroom had holes in the wall,” Band & Choir Teacher Rachelle Stephens said.

The displaced choir is still fine-tuning its new routine.

“To be honest with you, I can’t say we have a good, new normal yet. We’re still working on that,” Stephens said.

Holding music classes in this church is just one of the new arrangements the district has to make for this year.

The steel building connected to the high school, which housed the gym and some classrooms, took the hardest hit.

“It was pretty shocking,” Burke Superintendent Erik Person said.

Meanwhile the high school and elementary buildings, which are back in business, mainly suffered roof and water damage.

A mobile classroom sitting nearby will be the new science lab this year.

The district is learning how to make the most out of its space as repair work continues.

“We were able to just reclaim some classrooms in this old building. We divided our library, which is really a large space into more classrooms,” Person said.

Teachers are also taking turns in classrooms.

“Yes, we’re displaced teachers, but we have a roof over our heads, we have walls, we have everything we need to continue on,” Stephens said.

Students are back to cracking open their textbooks as they navigate the new year.

“These first couple days of school kids are so busy with kids with schedule changes and figuring out where they’re going and figuring out where their lockers are and that kind of stuff. It’s kind of refreshing to deal with those everyday problems that you have at the beginning of every school year,” Person said.

Ask anyone at the school, getting to this point couldn’t have been possible without the community’s support.

“It’s a lot of work putting this all back together and getting ready, scrambling to get the school year ready, but we’ve got some people who know how to work. That’s really been helpful,” Person said.

“It just really makes you see how strong we really are,” Benter said.

Benter and her fellow classmates are still trying to find perfect harmony in the church turned classroom, but when you’re Burke Strong, you can bet you’ll get there.

Person estimates it will be about 6-8 months before all the repairs are done.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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