First day of school, Take 2: Riverside Academy returns to the classroom

Published 10:22 am Saturday, October 9, 2021

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RESERVE — It felt like the first day of school all over again as students returned to Riverside Academy Thursday morning, nearly six weeks after Hurricane Ida devastated the River Parishes.

The Riverside family and surrounding community have worked fervently to restore school buildings that sustained extensive wind damage. As of October 7, repairs to the high school building were 90% complete. The gym has been fully restored, and the cafeteria is back in operation.

Riverside Academy Principal Holly Haase said fundraising efforts are ongoing to finance remaining repairs. The Pre-K building will be ready to welcome the littlest Rebels back on Monday morning. However, only about 50% of the elementary and middle school building was operational as students returned this week.

Approximately 15 families remain displaced by the storm. Haase said Riverside is working with each family to establish a remote learning option until their children are ready to come home and transition back to in-person learning.

The 2021-2022 school year was just starting when Hurricane Ida hit Southeast Louisiana on August 29, so the return to school felt a lot like a new beginning.

Some Rebels wore wide smiles while others looked on shyly, full of first day jitters.

“It was amazing. The kids were so excited, and parents were excited, of course,” Haase said. “It was like the first day all over again, the same feeling.”

Friday’s first home football game of the year marked another return to normalcy. The stadium is still without a press box and half of the concession stand is gone, but the lights shine bright above the field, and a temporary sound system is in place to document every big play.

Normalcy is what all of the Riverside family is striving for, particularly the seniors who have not experienced a “normal” school year since they were freshmen.

“When we were all staying home after the hurricane, it felt like we were back in summer again. We couldn’t talk to anyone. We couldn’t see anyone. It’s sad because it’s our senior year,” student Christy Louque said.

Being disconnected from peers brought Louque closer to her family, an experience she is grateful for. Now that she’s back in school, she is finding a larger support system.

“When I’m at home, it makes me feel like I’m the only one being affected, but here I see everyone is going through the same thing,” she said.

Students shared their experiences during the storm, many of which included the feeling of helplessness at knowing their homes were being ravaged by the hurricane and not being able to do anything about it.

Seniors Haley Millet, Layken Epperly and Alysa Epperly emphasized that school has become a “comfort place” as the entire community looks for ways to recover from the storm.

The same is true for senior Nicholas Ellis, who only recently returned to in-person learning for the first time since the COVID shutdown during his sophomore year.

“Whenever COVID first came about, we went home in March 2020, and I have been doing virtual school ever since. I finally got back in school two weeks before Ida hit, and then I had to stay home more,” Ellis said. “Now I’m finally back in school. It feels peaceful here because my home flooded and we have to remodel and change everything. It feels better for me to be at school.”

The students said Hurricane Ida and the COVID-19 pandemic have taught them to never take high school for granted. They want to embrace every milestone they can this year. They are especially looking forward to homecoming, which is scheduled for October 23.

The Rebels are also grateful for the opportunity to participate in volleyball, football, dance and cheer, among other extracurriculars that are coming back to campus for the first time since Hurricane Ida.