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Our Opinion: Joplin's lessons of strength

Joplin High School students resumed classes Wednesday, but they didn’t return to the building they attended last year.

It’s gone.

Joplin’s public high school — along with about a third of the city’s buildings — was destroyed by a tornado in late May.

In keeping with this week’s education theme as a new school year begins, we believe lessons may be learned from Joplin’s experience.

The tornado’s toll was extensive. It killed 160 people, including seven students. In addition to the high school, five other school buildings were destroyed and several more were damaged. The tornado struck on May 22, the day of high school graduation, and the fatalities included a senior on his way home.

The timely start of a new school year is a testament to the value of education shared by the Joplin community, including patrons and parents, teachers and students, administrators and merchants.

Some high school students are attending class in a converted big-box retail store at Northpark Mall. One of the three middle schools is held at an industrial park; rival elementary schools combined.

Regarding the relocation and rebuilding, English teacher Brenda White observed: “I’ve always known people are strong here. But this has really brought it home. People are so strong. They just get up, dust off and go to work. That’s what we do here.”

The Associated Press reported: “Students arrived at the ‘mall school’ Wednesday morning to a bevy of well-wishers holding Joplin High signs and lining the entrance road.”

Joplin’s capacity to transform devastation into a celebration of learning serves to remind other school districts to be grateful for their good fortune.

Missouri is among the Midwestern states prone to tornadoes, and Joplin’s experience is a graphic reminder of their destructive power.

But Joplin’s response illustrates the indomitable spirit and strength of people. And when people believe in the importance of education, they will dust themselves off and go to work until the job is done.

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