For students of South Okanagan Secondary School the rainbow arching over the school grounds that appeared early Monday morning didn’t lead them to a pot of gold.
But you wouldn’t know that by their faces. The students were heading back to classes in portables amidst the charred ruins of what once used to be their school with smiles on their faces. Hugs, handshakes and an overall atmosphere of positive attitudes reigned supreme.
“It’s surreal,” said School District 53 superintendent Bev Young, who was standing in the school’s courtyard as the kids arrived Monday morning. “These kids are back together smiling, hugging and meeting their friends. There has been so much support from the community and I’m sure the kids appreciate seeing the thoughtfulness of the community.”
The students were greeted Monday morning by volunteers from Oliver Valley First, who teamed up with Staples to provide the kids with bags filled with essential school supplies. In each bag was a binder, highlighters, pens and other items.
David Bushby, vice-president of banking and insurance services at Valley First, said a lot of his fellow employees graduated from the school and were concerned the students would be heading back to school on Monday with no supplies. They decided the least they could do was rally some support and donate items to SOSS students.
Grade 12 student Charn Buttar volunteered to help the Valley First crew hand out the school supplies to his peers. He said he is still in a state of shock from what happened to the school, and returning on Monday just felt “weird.”
The morning of the fire that consumed about 70 per cent of the school, Buttar said his mother woke him at 3:30 a.m. after seeing the flames glow from her window at home.
“It was crazy,” said Buttar. “It felt like the whole town was on fire because the flames looked so huge. I went up to the school around 4 a.m. and I knew it was going to be bad. I have lived in Oliver my whole life and the school and auditorium meant so much to the community. There are so many memories here for people.”
Tyra Campbell, a Grade 11 student, had a smile on her face as volunteers handed her school supplies while she was searching for the portable classroom she was to report to. Happy to be back with friends and get the school year going, Campbell expects it will be a lot more crowded. Having attended SOSS since she was in Grade 8, Campbell said she is sad to see most of her school gone.
“The morning of the fire I was getting text messages from people telling me about it. I thought it was some kind of joke until I looked out the window. I just started crying when I saw it,” said Campbell