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Community spirit triumphs over tragedy

: Roger and Randall Scoggins were drafted for the challenging task of building new picnic tables for the students at the Russell Elementary School during an all- volunteer community work day this past Saturday. Randall will be entering the fifth grade at Russell Elementary in September and says he is really looking forward to the school year. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
August 04, 2010
RUMNEY—In the early morning hours, just before dawn, there is a crisp nip of chill in the air these days, just enough to faintly foreshadow the "back to school" weather that lies ahead in the coming weeks.

If Principal Peter Helgerson has anything to do with it, by the time that hint of September ripens into its full promise, the students of Rumney will be eager to return to their beloved Russell Elementary School.

Helgerson was joined by dozens of enthusiastic and caring community members from Rumney and surrounding towns this past Saturday morning on a mission to reclaim their school from the wounds inflicted by an incident of vandalism that shocked the community at the close of the last school year.

In July, several vandals broke into the school late at night and wreaked havoc in the classrooms, cafeteria, halls and gymnasium, defacing carpets, furniture, walls and even student artwork with paint and graffiti, leaving a path of destruction in their wake.

Hal Patterson donated the use of his own personal Kubota to help spread mulch under the playground apparatus at the Russell Elementary School. Connie Morrison was one of dozens of volunteers from all over the region to contribute elbow grease, raking, painting, and cleaning up the school grounds. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
Helgerson says many students were devastated by the incident, feeling that "their school" had been violated. They worried about how the school would look and how they would feel when they returned in the fall.

The good news is that "Rumney Cares," and at Helgerson's request, dozens of dedicated community members showed up this past Saturday morning, rakes and mops and paintbrushes in hand, to show their support for the school and the students.

"After the vandalism, we had so many people call and graciously offer to help clean, re-build and recover from this incident," said Helgerson. "The kids were upset, afraid that the vandals had ruined 'their school,' so it got to the point where we decided to do something that would be good for the town, but good for the kids, too…because the kids are what this is all about. We want them to know that Rumney truly cares."

Helgerson explained that a cleaning crew, hired by the insurance company, has been diligently at work over the past three weeks or so to begin the job of putting the school back on track. They were able to salvage a lot of the furniture, but carpeting and other structural elements were beyond repair and have to be replaced. The inside of the school is currently a construction zone, with workers getting ready for the return of teachers on Aug. 20, so the volunteers who showed up on Saturday focused their efforts outside, painting exterior doors, washing windows, weeding gardens, landscaping the grounds and building picnic tables.

Everybody pitched in. SAU 48 School Facilities Manager Jon Francis volunteered his time and expertise. Rumney Police Chief Tim Main was wielding a rake and carting a wheelbarrow on his day off. Select board member Janice Mulherin was tending to the shrubbery with pruning implements. Bob and Paula Thompson showed up with their painting supplies and pressure washing equipment and went to work. Lifelong Rumney resident Hal Patterson brought along his new Kubota to help spread mulch on the playground. Why? Hal's father attended the two-room school that used to stand on the grounds of Russell Elementary.

The "Russell girls," Ruth and Mary, taught both father and son, "back in the day." Hal was only one of a number of committed, caring Rumney school alumni who showed up to help put "their school" back into great shape again.

The father and son team of Randall and Roger Scroggins were handed a sheet of instructions and given the unenviable and highly educational task of figuring out how to put the new picnic tables together.

"We loaded up the car this morning with rakes and trimmers and shovels," said Roger. "But as you can see, when we arrived we were needed for this important task instead. We are happy to help out in any way we can. We are here because we care about Russell Elementary School."

Parent Teacher Organization President Tammy LaPointe was quick to answer the call, rallying the PTO members to show up and to provide the coffee and baked goods to refresh the volunteers during their three-hour shift Saturday morning.

Paintbrush in hand, LaPointe said she was looking forward to a busy school year, planning activities and programs like Math Family Fun Night and bake sales to support the eighth graders' annual class trip. She is looking forward to the fall open house night at Russell Elementary School, where she hopes the PTO can attract even more members to help accomplish positive things to support the school.

School Board member Rachel Anderson and her daughter, Katherine, a third-grader this year, showed up ready for whatever task they were given.

"I am so glad to see this happening," said Anderson. "The vandalism was disheartening for all of us, but it is so great to see people turning out to support the school and to see how everyone has pulled together to do this. The response from the community has been so encouraging."

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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