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PHOTOS: Joplin Cuts Ribbon on New High School

Two VIP’s were on hand for Friday’s ribbon cutting for the new Joplin High School.  The old school was destroyed when a tornado tore through the city in May, 2011, killing 161 people and devastating a large portion of the city.  The new building opened for class in September this year.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky attended the ribbon cutting and has this story.

Nine school district buildings were in the storm’s path, including Joplin High School, and the district sustained $150 million in damages.

But after three years in a temporary space, 2200 students and staff began the school year September 2nd at the new $110 million Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center.  It features lots of natural light, buildings connected with skywalks, four safe rooms, three gymnasiums and green space.  It also offers a 66-seat student run restaurant, a black box theatre with indoor and outdoor seating, an art gallery, an expanded athletic complex and more.

Hundreds of people gathered at the new school today to officially open the facility.  A maroon and white ribbon snaked its way around the school grounds.        

(Sound of ribbon being cut)

And with that, the new high school was officially dedicated.

The event is expected to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest ribbon used in a ribbon cutting.  The ribbon, which was six and a half miles long, equaled the length of the path of destruction in Joplin after the tornado hit in May 2011. 

According to Guinness World Records, the record for longest ribbon belonged to the state of New Jersey, which used a 5.51-mile ribbon to re-open a portion of the Jersey Shore in May 2013, nearly seven months after the area was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Vice-President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan attended the ribbon cutting.

Biden says he’s impressed by the perseverance and tenacity of Joplin and its citizens.

"You've come back--stronger than before with a commitment and a passion to envision a new Joplin, a magnificent school, laptops instead of textbooks, hands-on learning opportunity like building robots, using, using your increase in high school graduation rates--increasing it by nearly ten percent just since, just since the tornado," he said.

Joplin School Superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff was emotional as he talked about the students and staff members who lost their lives in the tornado.  He says when school re-opened on August 17, 2011, 832 students and about 400 staff members were homeless.  He still struggles to find a way to say thank you to everyone who stepped forward and helped after the tornado hit.  One way to say thanks, he told the crowd, is to help students succeed.

"The way we say thank you to the world is by ensuring  every one of our children grows up in an environment of  inside and outside of our schools.  We say thank you by graduating a senior class every year who are not only prepared for college or a career but have put into practice the ideal of service before self in their daily lives.  And we say thank you by growing our next generation of citizens who are well prepared to lead Joplin, our state, our nation and our world into the future," he said.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recalled his visit to Joplin not long after the tornado hit.

"And I definitely felt the unspeakable loss and sense of tragedy and grief, but I also remember as distinctly, the resilience and the toughness and the sense of what was possible.  And we toured a high school that was in a shopping mall they put together in like 55 days, and to talk to the students that day and to hear both about the extraordinary challenges, the overwhelming challenges, but their belief in what they could accomplish and the adults in their lives, I left inspired.  I left full of hope," he said.

After the tornado tore through Joplin it was estimated that about one third of Joplin students would leave the community.  But people didn’t give up on their town.  When school re-opened that August, 95 percent of students came back.

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