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North Central HS community grows stronger in year since devastating EF-2 tornado

Columbia WIS TV logo Columbia WIS TV 1/13/2021 Emily Wakeman
a large brick building: One year ago, facilities on the North Central High School campus were destroyed by an EF-2 tornado. © Provided by Columbia WIS TV One year ago, facilities on the North Central High School campus were destroyed by an EF-2 tornado.

KERSHAW COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - The past year has presented unprecedented challenges for schools across South Carolina, but even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, 2020 was a nightmare for folks at North Central High School.

It was on this date, one year ago, an EF-2 tornado tore through the school, leaving destruction in its path and students without classrooms to learn.

All that remains of North Central High School is the auditorium, the gym, and the football field. While the empty field where the school used to sit represents painful memories for teachers and students after the tornado ripped the school apart, they said it’s also a symbol of perseverance and better days ahead.

a car parked in front of a building: The North Central knight survived the storm in the school's entryway. Officials brought it out front

The North Central knight survived the storm in the school's entryway. Officials brought it out front
© Provided by Columbia WIS TV

“I was devastated at what I saw,” Valerie Johnson, the North Central High School theatre teacher, said while thinking back to the first time she went to the school in the aftermath of the tornado. “I could look directly into my classroom: a big gaping hole, and I remember at that point breaking down and crying.”

North Central High School Principal David Branham said he told students that he wants them to remember what that day was like one year ago.

“I told them I wanted them I want them to remember that day, and how it made it feel when we had to come here because that’s going to help them later in life to overcome other adversities,” Branham said, “and I want them to remember the positives too that came out of that day.”

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Johnson, whose theatre classroom faced some of the worst damage in the wake of the tornado, said it made both students and staff stronger.

“With the right group of people, you can make it through anything,” Johnson said.

Branham said it prepared them for what was to come.

“I think the tornado and the adversity we faced with the tornado helped prep us for being out with COVID because we had overcome some adversity,” Branham said. “We’ve got some kids that have a lot of grit about them and our staff.”

Branham said students learned virtually during the spring, but they returned to five days a week of in-person learning in September at a nearby vocational campus and they have remained in person ever since the beginning of the year.

“More than anything, they’re just glad to be here,” Branham said about how the students feel getting to attend school in person.

Plans for a new school building where the old campus sat are ready to go and on display in their temporary cafeteria. Staff and teachers said they are looking forward to the next chapter for North Central High School.

“I just can’t wait for the school to be rebuilt so we can be back home and be back where we belong,” Johnson said.

Branham said that they still have games at the gymnasium and are planning on holding graduation on the football field. Kershaw County School District officials said the school plans are currently being reviewed by the Department of Education’s office of school facilities and once they get the green light, it will most likely take 18 months to rebuild.

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