GATLINBURG (WATE) – Nearly three months after the devastating fires in Sevier County elementary students in Gatlinburg are finally back in their usual classrooms.
Pi Beta Phi Elementary was evacuated during fires in November. Because of smoke damage the school needed repairs before students could be allowed back into the building.
“Our last memory of being here was being evacuated. We could see smoke. We know there’s danger all around us,” said Dan Morris, a teacher at Pi Beta Phi.
Many of the students and teachers were sent to the old Pittman Center School. Assistant Teacher Seemona Whaley said their temporary facility didn’t have an area for recess or a lunchroom, so she was relieved to be back at Pi Beta Phi Elementary.
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“I’m very excited because we haven’t been here in so long,” said third grade student Kendall Barrett.
It was such an important day at Pi Beta Phi not only because the students are excited to be back in familiar classrooms, but also because teachers say it is so important to get the kids back into a sense of normalcy.
“I think a lot of uncertainty about what’s going to happen, where are we going to be and when are we going to be there, but they were aware of all the support and all the love,” said Terry Wright, Paraprofessional in Special Education.
Teachers finally moved back into their classrooms as students hit the books there once again.
“I’m just excited to be back. I missed my home,” said 6th grade student Mckenzie Bremer.
A day everyone there has been hoping for finally arrived with the support of the whole community.
“Everything that’s happened to us has really shown all the love in Sevier County and I think that it feels good but it was scary,” Bremer said.
It was just one more step forward for the close community.
“Gatlinburg is going to come back, and we’re going to come back stronger and more beautiful than ever,” Whaley said.
The school hosted an open house Monday night for families and students to visit before the first day back. Teachers opened their classrooms for a casual night back that Woods says was part of establishing a sense of normalcy.
“We had so many children that were so fragile, for lack of a better word. You don’t know what’s behind those eyes. At any moment tears could pop out and you just got to give a big hug.” said Gary Ownby, a teacher at Pi Beta Phi.
Woods says preparing for Monday’s opening was like preparing for a holiday with family together and a celebration for being back to school.
“The teachers are feeling like they’ve just finished running a race. They’ve made it to the finish line; they get to go back home now.” said Assistant Principal Hans Ballew.