Students at École Évangéline in Wellington have finally returned to the building, four months after post-tropical storm Fiona left the school in western P.E.I. extensively damaged and unusable.
Last fall, hundreds of children had to be moved to makeshift learning spaces at nearby festival grounds in Abram-Village.
On Thursday, 90 students from Grade 7 to 12 returned to their school building for the first time since the storm, and 125 students from kindergarten to Grade 6 will join them next week.
"It's good to have that whole community aspect again," said Cassidy Arsenault, a science teacher at Évangéline. "It's nice to have everybody [under] the same roof."
Arsenault started teaching at Évangéline this school year, just a few weeks before Fiona hit the Island on Sept. 24.
"My class was one of the classes that had no roof. So seeing that, seeing pictures of that, and going in when we were able to go in safely, it was like a total shock," she said.
"It was really devastating, but we did know that we were going to be back here eventually someday, and that's what made us push through."
'We have everything we need to be functional'
Construction crews are still doing work on the western side of the building, which won't be back in use until the repairs are finished. The area has been blocked off so that students can't go near it.
The main gym is still not ready, so other local facilities will continue to be used instead. The library has also been set up at a temporary location.
But school principal Dominique Morency said classes will otherwise be unaffected.
"We have good space to fit everybody and be functional. The only thing that we will miss for a few months is the gym," she said.
"What you need is all there ... We won't have all the decorations and the luxuries we would have, but we have everything we need to be functional."
'People are happier,' student says
Alexandra Mitchell is in Grade 10. She said that while classes at the festival grounds went without a hitch for her, she prefers being at the school.
"It's a lot less cold than in the rink," she said. "You can see that people are happier, and I like that."
Briley Cameron said he's glad to be able to finish high school at the place where he's studied his "whole life." He's in Grade 12 now.
"Being back here today is a big step for us in getting back to normal," he said, adding that it does take a "little bit of getting used to. We haven't been here in so long, it's certainly very different."
The school is set to be eventually replaced by a new building. But for now, Morency said returning to Évangéline is like being back home.
"It's the heart of the community," she said.