Former Longfellow principal remembers flood of 2011

Andrea Johnson/MDN Tracey Lawson, who was principal at Longfellow Elementary during the flood of 2011, looks over a book of flood memories in her office. Lawson is now the assistant superintendent for the Minot Public Schools.

The flood of 2011 brought many challenges for the Minot Public Schools, including the destruction of Erik Ramstad Middle School and Lincoln Elementary and the displacement of students and damage to other schools in the district.

Still, what shines through for Tracey Lawson, who was principal at Longfellow Elementary in 2011 and is now an assistant superintendent in the Minot Public Schools, is the resilience of teachers and staff.

When the sirens went off, Lawson recalls talking to the school custodian, whose own home was flooded, and marveling at his positive attitude.

“He was saying, ‘It’s going to be all right, Tracey,'” said Lawson, who said one-third of staff members and one-third of the students at Longfellow at the time had homes that flooded.

Lawson felt fortunate that her own home was out of the flood danger zone, but she and other staff members were dealing with the disruption at Longfellow, where the school survived but sustained flood damage.

In the aftermath, cleanup crews came in to help clean up the flood damage and plans had to be made for the start of school in the fall.

Staff and volunteers had fortunately helped move items to an upper floor at the school before the flood hit. The school board decided that portable classrooms would be moved onto the Longfellow site and children would attend classes in the portables.

Lawson still recalled the open house that was held for parents and students before classes started in the fall of 2011.

“We didn’t even have electricity in the portables,” said Lawson. She was showing off the portable classrooms to parents using flashlights and telling them that this was where their children would be attending school.

Needed classroom items were jumbled and teachers and staff worked 24/7 to put them in order, much like they were putting together a puzzle. On the first day of school, Lawson said it looked like they had spent all year preparing the classrooms. They were determined to make things right for the kids.

Until January of the following year, students ate cold lunches that were delivered to their classrooms and ran up and down a breezeway for gym class. Donors sometimes made things special for the kids by doing things such as having pizza delivered as a special treat.

After Christmas that school year, a building that was used as a temporary gymnasium and cafeteria had been constructed, and it gave kids a chance to eat lunch together and to attend gym classes in a bigger space.

More stability gradually came into the lives of teachers and children as homes were cleaned and families were able to move back home or into new housing. Staff and students celebrated together every time they heard the good news.

The memories of that time will connect the staff who lived through the flood forever.

In the aftermath of the flood, the school district decided to build on to Longfellow Elementary rather than to rebuild nearby Lincoln Elementary. Longfellow students got to watch the construction of the new addition, which was exciting for them.

Lawson said the new addition matched the old Longfellow School so well that it is hard to tell which section belonged to the old school and which belonged to the new. The new addition also enabled the school district to update facilities as well as increase the size of the school.

Lincoln Elementary students attended classes after the flood in a temporary school facility at what was then First Presbyterian Church. They moved over to Longfellow Elementary when the new addition was completed.

A new Erik Ramstad Middle School was constructed following the flood in a new location using Federal Emergency Management Agency funding. Ramstad students, who had attended classes in portables at the Minot Municipal Auditorium, moved to that new location along 36th Avenue NW.

Lawson said she is sure that the students who attended Longfellow during that time remember eating lots of packaged carrots and cold sandwiches in their classrooms, but she also hopes they remember feeling secure at school, appreciated and loved at a time when so many other areas of their lives had been disrupted.

It also is a reminder “not to sweat the small stuff” when new challenges arise, like the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that disrupted schools for the last year and a half.


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