Central School in Helena is no stranger to academic disruption. Seven years ago, the historic building was closed down after an engineering study called the building’s structural integrity into question in the event of an earthquake.
“The crazy thing is it was March 15th when they closed Central and it was March 15th when they closed us now,” said Lisa George, who has worked at the school for 16 years, the last 12 as secretary.
Helena High School senior Drew Briggs was a fifth grader at the time. He remembers going out for a longer than normal recess with his classmates. “We ended up spending about two times the amount out there and we were kind of wierded out,” said Briggs. “Turns out it was a staff meeting discussing the shutdown.”
“It was chaos kind of,” said George. “You know parents are picking up their kids, kids are crying because we didn’t know the extent of what was happening, but they just knew we couldn’t get back in the building.”
The district solution was to send first through fourth graders to Lincoln School. Fifth graders, like Drew, would spend what would have been their final year at Central at Helena Middle School.
“Even though we didn’t have recess at the same time and really didn’t communicate with any of the middle schoolers it was still super scary,” said Briggs.
Drew’s academic career was moving along until the COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball at his senior year.
“As much as I don’t like waking up at seven o’clock every day, it’s still not fun to think about how you’re not going to have a senior all night party and even a graduation ceremony is up in the air at the moment,” said Briggs.
Whether its delayed or digital, Briggs says any graduation plan is better than none. After graduation, Briggs plans to move to Oregon to establish residency and eventually study graphic or interior design or possibly attend culinary school.
Briggs says learning from home has been a challenging adjustment. “It’s tough because a lot of the teaching we get is very hands on and it’s super important for teachers and students to interact face to face.”
For Lisa, she takes solace knowing that she will eventually return to the new Central School. “I had to keep in my mind that, I will be back to this beautiful building,” said George. “I know that I will be back in this place. Where at the old Central it was unknown if we’d ever be back in that building or what was going to happen to it.”
Central was eventually demolished and rebuilt with money from a taxpayer approved bond. It reopened at the beginning of this academic year.