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The barrier island elementary school that survived Hurricane Ian

Pine Island Elementary School
Posted at 6:15 PM, Nov 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-02 20:01:16-04

PINE ISLAND, Fla. — "The little island that could" is how many are describing Pine Island, especially at Pine Island Elementary. Despite a Category 4 hurricane, their building is still standing.

“You know that story about the three little pigs, right?" asked Pine Island Elementary student Richard Ajin. "It didn’t break down, it’s just like a brick — like when the big bad wolf blew it, but the bricks didn’t fall.”

It didn't fall is right; with the school still standing and only suffering from minor wind and water damage.

“When I first came on campus the day after the hurricane, there was not one leaf on any of these trees, now there are leaves," said Dr. Tom Millins, Pine Island Elementary principal.

Pine Island Elementary School damage

The school opened seven days ago and is now pushing resiliency and a sense of normalcy for students, especially with 12 families in the school still being displaced.

“You think about the number of stories out there," cried Regina Nortarianni, a resource teacher at the school. "These kids — the experiences they have. We only get to scratch the surface of what they have been through.”

Georgia Smith is one of those students who has a story. She rode out the storm on the island as she held on to her favorite stuffed animal that she can't sleep without and watched the storm pass over.

Pine Island Elementary school damage

“You realize that it’s a part of your property and it’s a part of like your house and to see it fall down, is just sad," Smith said.

But that sadness is now being replaced with other feelings. All of the students said they were extremely happy to be back at school, mainly because they wanted to see their teachers and friends.

"It’s been so crazy. When I first got on the island, I couldn’t say a word. The first day I went to school to my friends and gave them a big hug," said Kai Streeter, a student who lives on the island. “It feels so good.”

Dr. Tom Millins gave us a tour of the school, and as he asked all of the students if they were happy to be back, they all responded with a gleeful "yes".

When touring the school, you can see the playground that was once flooded now filled with students playing, and classrooms were filled with students learning.

Pine Island Elementary damage

“Everybody here has been so resilient, and it’s just been heartbreaking to watch, but also motivational to see how everybody has been able to pull it together," Nortarianni said.

Dr. Millin also explained that before reopening the school the staff went through special mental health training to make sure everyone was mentally prepared to return.