Small groups of athletes, band and art students, and JROTC students were present to greet them.
Stations were set up around the gymnasium, giving the visitors a chance to view aerial storm damage photos of different areas taken after the April tornado and speak directly with students and faculty who were affected by the storm and had a part in the rebuilding.
Neither Deal nor Barge were able to visit the area immediately after the storm so this was their first glimpse of the damages.
“They’re very resilient and they’ve come a long way,” said Deal of the student body. “I see a lot of hope and excitement and real love for being here. I was glad to see some of the pictures and talk to the students. It really helps you understand. It was good to see up close what kind of tragedy it truly was.”
Barge agreed. “There was so much loss and tragedy,” he said. “It’s a testament to the whole community.”
Deal and Barge were joined by a blend of faculty, school board members and city and state officials, including Ringgold mayor Joe Barger, state Rep. Jay Neal of LaFayette and state Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga. The entourage also visited an eighth-grade Georgia history classroom where the first lady spoke to the students about the heritage of the governor’s mansion and the Milledgeville area.
Afterwards, the group boarded a school bus, saw an overview of the fresh athletic areas and buildings, and stopped to tour the newly rebuilt middle school, where they were entertained by the Ringgold Middle School jazz group and chorus in the new media center.
In a somewhat emotional closing, the chorus performed a song titled “We Will Be a Shelter for Each Other in the Storm,” accompanied by a visual presentation of tornado photos. Both the first lady and the state superintendent had kind words of praise for the students and also encouraged them to stay in the music programs.
“You guys were amazing,” said Barge. “It’s obvious that you’ve come together, and there’s probably no way that any of us can understand how you were impacted by the events of last (school) year. There’s a lot that adults can learn from you.”