HELENA – The halls at Helena Middle School were a little more crowded than usual Wednesday, as about 160 fourth- and fifth-graders from Rossiter Elementary School arrived for classes.
The students will be attending HMS through Friday, after Helena School District leaders announced Rossiter will remain closed through the end of the school year because of flooding. Rising waters in the Helena Valley have cut off access to the school.
Helena Middle School administrators offered space to host some of Rossiter’s classes.
“We replanned our schedules a little bit,” said HMS principal Josh McKay. “Our teachers volunteered to offer up their classrooms and combine areas with other teachers in our grades, so that Rossiter could have classrooms here.”
Six classrooms were opened up, so three fourth-grade classes and three fifth-grade classes were able to move in.
Rossiter principal Doug Baker is currently working out of a school resource officer’s office. He said about 40 Rossiter employees were at HMS Wednesday, to help with the transition. That included kindergarten through third-grade teachers, whose students had the day off, but who came to help anyway.
“It’s really been a team effort all the way around,” Baker said.
HMS students posted signs around their school, welcoming the Rossiter students in.
“Our school, our parents, our students and our teachers really embrace that culture of ‘where everybody belongs,’ so we were more than willing to make space for Rossiter,” McKay said.
This isn’t the first time HMS has played host to displaced local students. McKay was also principal in 2013, when some Central School classes moved there, after the old Central building was closed because of concerns about the damage it could receive in an earthquake.
Rossiter’s time at HMS will be short. Starting on Monday and through the end of the school year, all grades at Rossiter will return to class, this time at Carroll College. They will use rooms in St. Charles Hall, Simperman Hall, the Civil Engineering Building, the Campus Center and the Hunthausen Activity Center.
“The Helena community has embraced Carroll College during our times of need in the past, such as the train explosion of 1989 which displaced many of our students living on campus,” said interim Carroll president Fr. Stephen Rowan, in a statement. “In turn, we are thankful to be in position to assist our fellow community members in their time of need, and we welcome our Rossiter friends with open arms.”
Carroll will have space available because its spring semester ends Thursday, and commencement is on Saturday.
Baker said Rossiter will hold a parent meeting Thursday night, to update families on the plans for Carroll College. The meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the Jim Darcy School gym.
So far, Baker said sandbags have kept water out of the buildings at Rossiter. Teachers were able to get inside Tuesday to collect the instructional materials they will need for the remaining weeks of school.
Baker said he’s hopeful that Rossiter students and those from Helena Middle School will take positive lessons from this experience.
“Kids are resilient,” he said. “You point them in the right direction and surround them with caring and loving people, and they’re going to be just fine.”