At flood-damaged Petitcodiac school, the empathy of Fredericton students overwhelms

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At flood-damaged Petitcodiac school, the empathy of Fredericton students overwhelms

When Gary Gallant, principal of Devon Middle School in Fredericton, read about the recent flood at Petitcodiac Regional School, he knew he had to do something to help.

A frozen water pipe ruptured at the Petitcodiac school for kindergarten to Grade 12 on Jan. 5, causing more than 30,000 litres to flood the building, damaging six classrooms and destroying 1,000 library books.

Gallant said he had a feeling of déjà vu.

"To be honest I had a bit of a sick feeling … because just three short years ago — almost to the day in fact — we experienced the very same thing,"

Devon Middle School lost its library in a similar flood, and Gallant said staff and students quickly rallied to come up with a fundraiser to help Petitcodiac Regional School.

"We want to pitch in a little bit and to show our empathy and just bond together because we're all in this together," Gallant said.

Monday is "Hat Day" at Devon Middle School,  and the Fredericton students will make a donation to their fellow students in Petitcodiac in exchange for wearing a hat to school.

"We're all doing the same thing — working with our children — and we wanted to make sure they had the opportunity in some small way to get back to normal," said Gallant.

Petitcodiac 'overwhelmed' by gesture

Ewen Cameron, principal of Petitcodiac Regional School, said the email from Gallant on Thursday came at the perfect time.

"It came at a time yesterday when we were just kind of settling in — first day back with students and we finally had a chance to breathe and ... it really touched a lot of us," Cameron said.

"One colleague came up to me and said, 'I don't usually get emotional but I've had a lump in my throat every since reading this.'" 

He said parents and people in Petitcodiac are doing all they can to help the school rebuild, but it meant a lot to get an offer of support from outside of their community.

"The significance of this gesture by Mr. Gallant is a bit overwhelming because these are total strangers who have really no connection with our school but now, we see how they are connected and it's really struck a nerve with our staff."

'Expect the unexpected in a positive way'

Gallant said it has been a good opportunity to remind students about empathy.

"Out of all this pain and suffering we've been experiencing at Petitcodiac Regional School something very good has come out of it this week," Cameron said.

Gallant said his best piece of advice for Cameron is not to get discouraged.

"When we were at our lowest point — our library was completely gutted to the studs — and we had people that were just travelling through from the United States on vacation and they heard about what was happening on the news. They dropped in and they gave us a cheque of significance just to help out.

Comedian helps too

"So expect the unexpected in a positive way and realize that you're not alone and to know that it is going to take time."

All students at Petitcodiac Regional School are now back in class. Cameron expects they will be out of the six damaged classrooms for at least six weeks.

The graduating class at Petitcodiac is holding a fundraiser on Thursday with comedian Jimmy Flynn.

"He said he had a pair of rubber boots he was going to wear because of the flood," Cameron said, laughing. "I said, 'Jimmy I don't think you have to wear them now.'"