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Louisa displays post-earthquake progress

Students and staff from Thomas Jefferson Elementary School have not had a brick-and-mortar school of their own for three years, but their adaptability and resilience were on display when local, state and federal officials toured the Louisa County schools most seriously affected by the 2011 Virginia earthquake.

Rep. Eric Cantor joined Brian Moran, state secretary of public safety and homeland security, representatives from FEMA, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management and Louisa County Tuesday morning for a tour of the combined Thomas Jefferson–Trevilians elementary campus, the elementary’s new building and Louisa County High School.

Fifth-graders Kylee Cormier, Nickolas Herbert, Daizhane Hunter, Ethan Nelson and Stuart Swink, along with Thomas Jefferson Principal Candace Wilkerson, greeted and toured the visitors through their campus.

Despite limitations like awnings that provide little protection from the elements and “Restroom Row”—a series of portable restrooms for the school’s 545 pre-K through fifth-grade students—students, staff and parents alike looked cheerful as they gathered for their annual field day.

“The most amazing thing has been the local effort in Louisa County,” Cantor said of the community’s response to the natural disaster.

After three years, the combined elementary schools have worked out a daily rhythm. In the mornings, Trevilians students eat breakfast in their classroom while modular campus students eat in the cafeteria.

According to Trevilians Principal Amy Scott, the cafeteria staff then has an hour to prepare for five lunch shifts from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for more than 1,000 students, staff and parents.

“We have the smallest cafeteria, but the most students fed in the county,” Scott said. “We just made it happen along the way.”

Educators and officials praised the community and government’s collaborative efforts to keep Louisa students from missing school or being short-shrifted by their accommodations. In fact, FEMA assisted in the transportation of Thomas Jefferson’s playground to the combined campus.

Principals Wilkerson and Scott, who have shared space since 2011, expressed that the upcoming split would be helpful, but different.

“It’ll be really strange not to have this type of collaboration. Instead of walking over, now I’ll have to make a phone call or visit,” Scott said. “But the staff is extremely excited.”

As far as the students go, though, it would just be business as usual.

Secretary Brian Moran, who was not in office when the magnitude-5.8 earthquake struck Mineral in August 2011, said that Louisa County had proven itself as a wonderful example of how to react, respond and recover from a disaster.

“Their determination to recover completely from this provides a very beneficial takeaway,” he said. “They decided that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and they just didn’t quit.”

In spite of the hardships, Superintendent Deborah Pettit kept looking towards the optimistic future for Louisa’s schools and said everyone in the county had a part in making everything become a reality.

“It has been an uphill battle, but when you get to this stage of it you look back and go, ‘Oh, it has really flown by,’” she said.

“From the students themselves, to the parents, and the community, and our state and federal officials to ensure that we could get our school rebuilt. It’s a happy day for us.”

Dawnthea Price 540/374-5403