By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
On Aug. 11, two days before the new school year started, Rivet Middle/High School Principal Janice Vantlin-Jones was excited for students to return to the classroom.
“Oh, we’re so ready to have them back,” she said. “It’s been too long of a break. Teachers are ready, I think students are ready; it’s time to be back together.”
Starting a new school year during the COVID-19 pandemic is complicated enough, Father Tony Ernst, administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Vincennes and St. Philip Neri Parish in Bicknell, said; however, it’s been even more challenging at Rivet since April storm damage uprooted some teachers and students.
To prepare for the 2020-2021 school year, Rivet administrators not only had to plan safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but they also had to prepare new classrooms and office space for those who were displaced.
The April 8 severe storm’s straight-line winds ripped off the roof and tore through an exterior brick wall of Rivet’s third-floor science room. Other damaged areas include the bookkeeper’s office and the middle-school science and math classrooms.
The first day of classes for Rivet Middle and High School, with students in grades 6-12, was Aug. 13. To accommodate students and teachers until everything is repaired, middle-school students are currently using areas of the existing school building that were not damaged by the storm. The high school is using another building on campus called the annex.
Jones said that the annex, just across the parking lot from the school, served years ago as the middle school. In recent years, the annex has been home to Christian Education Foundation offices and other programs, including Rivet’s health and art classes. Those were relocated, and the annex was remodeled to add lockers and accommodate high-school classes.
Kremp Construction, Inc. of Jasper completed the annex remodel and will also repair the storm damage to the school building.
Father Tony admitted it was a challenging process to figure out the next steps after the storm. However, he applauded the Vincennes community and Rivet alumni for their “incredible support.
“It never ceases to amaze me how people support their schools and parishes, especially in times of adversity,” he said. “God has and will continue to bless this school and community.
Jones agreed, and said the Rivet community is “Patriot Strong.” Everyone will “come out better than we started,” she said.
Feeling God’s presence
After the early April storm, the destruction was obvious, but so was God’s presence.
No one expected to see a crucifix still hanging, unharmed, on the northeast wall of the destroyed high school classroom; but it was there.
Rivet High School science teacher Kayley Brian was in disbelief of what little survived in her classroom. Only two items remained hanging on the still-standing wall: a crucifix and a painting she created while on vacation with her family.
“The cross was on a screw in the wall, and the painting was on a Command Hook,” she said. “Both were just hanging with nothing holding them up, and I think they both speak of the things that are truly important. God was here and kept us all safe, and is still here watching over us and keeping us going. Family is also a huge part of Rivet. My students are my kids and after the storm my actual family and my kids all called, texted, or reached out in some way to check on me.”
The crucifix currently hangs above the door in Brian’s temporary classroom in the annex.
She isn’t sure where the crucifix came from because it was in the classroom for as long as she can remember. The Rivet alumna said it was hanging in the high school science room when she was a student from 2009-2012.
In April, Father Tony said the crucifix was “just another reminder that, as things in this world are destroyed and life here on earth is so fragile, the Cross remains the one constant in our lives.”
Grateful for the Rivet community
Father Tony expressed gratitude to the Rivet community, as well as parishioners of St. Francis Xavier.
“They love their community and the great Catholic tradition here, and they will do anything necessary to see it continue on,” he said. “I also want to thank all those from our diocese, including Bishop Joseph M. Siegel, for their continued support during this challenging time.”
The first days back were a little tough, Father Tony said, but everyone adapted and made the transition much smoother.
“We will all be very grateful when the school building is repaired and we can settle back in,” he said.
Repairs to the damaged areas currently closed to the school community are expected to be completed this fall, so displaced students and teachers can return to the main building for the second semester.