RICHMOND, Va. -- More than a month after their school building was destroyed in a fire, Fox Elementary students and teachers return to in-person learning at First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue Monday.
"They gave us almost the whole church," said third grader Olivia Hager. "You can actually see the teacher and you can actually go up to the board and write something."
The return to in-person learning is something Fox parents and students have been anxiously awaiting.
"Socially, and emotionally, she needs it," explained Tameka Foster, who has a second-grade daughter at Fox.
"This has been very traumatizing," she added. "This happening right before Valentine's Day, she cried her eyes out And keep in mind, this is right after COVID, so they haven't had a normal school year.”
But this church building gives Foster hope that her daughter can resume a somewhat normal learning experience.
“This is major," Foster noted. "She was so excited. She was up at six o'clock this morning.”
On the outside, the building doesn’t look like a school. But inside it’s been transformed, providing 24 classrooms for 358 students, as well as nurse and counselor offices.
“That love that the Fox community is known for really comes out when you come inside," explained Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras.
Thanks to the generosity of the community, the district has provided teachers with desks, supplies and an additional $500 to help make their new classrooms feel like home.
"Teachers, especially Fox teachers, their classrooms are their second homes," explained Richmond Public Schools Spokeswoman Sarah Abubaker. "Principal Jacobs was talking to me about how in the summer, they spend all summer decorating their rooms, and they really put a lot of care and attention to it. So for them to have another space once again, this is really important and symbolic."
"Everybody is just so excited," Abubaker described. "The kids that have been in facilitated learning actually did little notes to First Baptist thanking them for the space, and what I've heard from families and caregivers over the Zoom calls is that everybody is just really excited to get back to some sense of normalcy."
RPS said work to renovate Clark Springs Elementary School for students until Fox can be rebuilt continues, and the district is still on track to have that work done by late April.
“Once it is ready, then we'll really have those conversations and see if the community wants to move again," said Kamras.
Fox families and teachers will help decide whether learning will remain at First Baptist for the rest of the school year, or if they will transition to Clark Springs when it is ready.
One reason Clark Springs could be a good option for families is that right now, the district isn’t able to offer after care programming at First Baptist.
"We're really trying to get after school," noted Abubaker. "As of right now we do not have any after school programming, but we are really, really working at it."