Ss. Peter and Paul School in Alton suffered structural damage during the massive rainfall that swept through the Midwest in the days after Christmas.
More than 10 inches fell in Greater Alton, causing the ground to erode under the foundation at the school, shifting the building and making it unsafe for students to finish the school term. Thanks to quick responses from the Alton School District, the city of Alton as well as parents and parishioners at Ss. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, students were able to relocate to the former Mark Twain School on Milton Road.
Fifth- to eighth-grade students were given an assignment during a unit on personal narratives to write an essay about their experience, the relocation and the change everyone endured.
By Owen Williams
In December of 2015, Alton, Illinois had a major storm. The rain from the storm made the Mississippi River reach the surface of Alton. The rain made the structure of the SSPP school collapse. The collapse caused cracks in the wall. The cracks and the structure of the school made the building unsafe for people. An architectural worker looked at the school and said that it was unsafe for school to be held here. Our principal had to make a very important decision. The decision was to either leave the school or stay. He chose to leave because of the safety for the children.
I found out about the school when Mr. Phillips told me after a Mass that I served. I told my dad about the school, but he did not believe me. Mr. Phillips told him that it was true, and he showed the backside of the school to us. I was in complete shock that we would not be going to school on the date we were supposed to. There was Eucharistic Adoration for the school, and after that there was a meeting for the school. That is when we found out that we would not be going to the same school.
We had two choices: the Catholic Children’s Home or the Mark Twain School, which is an old school. The Alton School District gave us the option of moving to Mark Twain. We decided to go to Mark Twain because the Catholic Children’s Home was not completely safe. Mark Twain was extremely gloomy and dirty. It took a while to clean the place up. To change schools we would have to get all the stuff that the teachers needed for school. Luckily, a parishioner paid a moving company to help us move the stuff we needed. A lot of people volunteered for the moving to a different school. The moving from one school to another took about a week.
It took us a week to get back to the school. I was nervous about what it would be like going to a new school. My family always volunteered to help clean or help the teachers get ready for school to start again. Cleaning took a while because the school had been empty for a long time. It also was a long school. Since there were a lot of rooms left we just used them as storage rooms. The recess area has a huge grass field and had two swing sets. Another cool thing about the school is that it has lockers for the kids. The school started looking new again.
The first day back was pretty nice. St. Ambrose provided lunch for the kids. I thought it was really kind of them to do that. On the second day the teachers were still trying to get things completely sorted out. The next few days were about getting everything ready for the rest of the year. In the first week we barely had any homework, but in the second week the amount of homework was back to normal. School started to feel normal again.
The third week is Catholic Schools Week. This week is always one of my favorite weeks. During the week we always do fun activities. The good thing about this week is that it’s lifting the hearts of all those who are upset about what had happened to SSPP. The thing that happened to SSPP is tough to swallow, but when you have great people around you great things can happen. In spite of all of that, we still strive to be better people in the name of God.
About Owen Williams
Owen Williams is a sixth-grade student in Brenda McElligott’s class at Ss. Peter and Paul School and the son of Pete and Becky Williams of Godfrey. As the only sixth-grade student selected as an essay winner, Owen is settling into his new surroundings in the former Mark Twain School building.
“I wasn’t ready for this change,” Williams said. “What happened with the school came so unexpectedly. It’s all working out; it’s just different. We’re all in a one-level building now and that’s nice. All of us got a chance to experience change together and sometimes change is a good thing.”
The Sinking School
By Abbie Hernandez
When I first found out about our school, I was sitting on the couch in my living room. The date was December 30th. My stepmom was reading FastDirect when she let out a loud gasp. My dad asked her what was wrong, and she read the email sent out to all of the parents. The school had suffered structural damage due to the tremendous amount of rain we had received within the past week. When she finished reading, I couldn’t believe it. I had gone to school there for eight years, and my grandfather and father both went there from kindergarten through eighth grade.
My family and I immediately got into my dad’s truck and drove up to school. My dad’s friend Kurt showed us the cracks in the preschool’s room. There was also a very big sinkhole by the crack. When we looked up the side of the school, we could tell that the whole building had shifted. The window sills were tilted downward toward the sinkhole, and most of the bricks on that side of the building had also shifted. We left the school afterward and waited for more news.
A few days later, we received more news on the school. My home room teacher, Ms. Lyons, was the person who found the cracks. She was taking down Christmas decorations on December 28th when she noticed the cracks in our English classroom. The school was unable to be inhabited, so we had to find another place to hold class as soon as possible because Christmas break was almost over.
Two days after we received the news on the condition of the school, my dad’s friend Pete called him and asked if we could come up to the school. A reporter from a local news station was there, and she was interviewing the Williams’ family. Pete had called us there in case the news reporter wanted to interview us because we were also a third-generation family that attended Ss. Peter and Paul School, and fourth-generation to attend the church.
After the Williams were finished with their interview, Mr. Cavanaugh went to look at Mark Twain and Catholic Children’s Home, which were our two choices to hold class.
Most of the parents, including mine, wanted us to use Mark Twain because of safety reasons. Our principal contacted the Alton School District to see if we could rent the building, and they agreed. It was now time to move in.
When our principal visited Mark Twain, it was being used as storage. We had to move everything into three classrooms we weren’t going to be using. The whole building needed a good cleaning because it hadn’t been used for eighteen months. The Dixon family cleaned the school, then it was time to move everything into the building.
A private donor paid for Hornsey Moving Company to move everything from our original school to the new one. All of the teachers were at Mark Twain, getting their classrooms set up. Other families and students, including me, were there to assist with anything the teachers might need, or to help clean what was dusty.
Within a week, the school was ready to be reopened. We had missed a week of school due to the instability of the old school building, so we will have to make it up at the end of this school year. Everyone seemed relieved that our school remained open.
On our first day back, St. Ambrose was kind enough to buy pizza for our whole school. Many of the students in my school have friends who go there, and it meant a lot to us that they would go out of their way to provide us with lunch.
Mark Twain took a little getting used to, but I personally like it. We have our own lockers to store our things in instead of trying to cram everything in our desks. We also have our own Science Lab, which I really like because we have more room to perform experiments. Our gym serves as the place where we have P.E., lunch, and other assemblies. The gym is attached to the building, so we don’t have to walk outside to get there. The playground has many other things than our old one.
The events that occurred with the original building worried many of us, but we pulled through and are much closer as a family than ever before. Our school may be small, but we sure are mighty. As Monsignor says, “An attitude of gratitude leads to a culture of giving.” I am truly grateful to the Alton area for all of their support. This school means a lot to many people in our area, and a lot to me.
About Abbie Hernandez
Abbie Hernandez, a seventh-grade student in Katie Lyons’ class at Ss. Peter and Paul School, is the daughter of T.J. Hernandez and Carrie Stewart of Godfrey. As one of two seventh-grade students selected as an essay winner, Abbie is grateful to her community for all that everyone has done to help them finish the school year.
“When we found out what happened to the school, we drove up to see it for ourselves,” Hernandez said. “It means so much to us that the community came forward to help us. As Monsignor says, ‘An attitude of gratitude leads to a culture of giving.’ We are truly grateful to everyone who helped us. I just want to say a big thank you. I hope one day we can do something to give back to those who helped us.”
Diane Cox contributed information to this article.