by Paul Ciavarri
Some folks said a new one couldn't be built. Others argued it was unnecessary, while a vocal, persistent, optimistic group of courageous souls said, yes, students needed - and could obtain - a new Marsh Fork Elementary School.
As you may recall, Marsh Fork is the elementary school that first entered public consciousness in 2006 as the only elementary school in the nation sitting right next to gigantic 2.1 billion gallon coal slurry impoundment - right in the Coal River Valley of central Appalachia.
After protests, marches, government inaction, and coal industry opposition, a new school opened for students in 2012, miles away from the danger of the slurry dam. And the students have much more than just a new school.
When I made a trip through the area in late April 2013, I saw the new school from outside. I hadn't planned on a visit, so all there was time for was a few photographs. The building has a sleek, compact design. It's miles away from the sludge impoundment. And I'm told its technology is up-to-date, including smartboards in classrooms.
And one thing this school has that was inconceivable in the other building: a health clinic. According to Debbie Jarrell, a representative of Coal River Mountain Watch, a fully staffed clinic is soon to be built next to school.
The irony is likely not lost on anyone following this story. A major reason for re-locating the school, beyond the danger of the impoundment dam, was that students were regularly sick when attending classes, which was attributed to coal dust from the large coal silos a football field or two away.
So today, because residents spoke out in the face of demands for conformity; because fellow Americans cared enough to inquire after their mountain dwelling neighbors; and because the force of love overtook the government's and industry's brute strength, students in this corner of America can live happier, healthier lives. And look to the future, instead of a giant impoundment dam that could have swept away their dreams in a moment's notice.
Classes Begin at New Marsh Fork Elementary
Marsh Fork's Main Page
Marsh Fork Elementary Dedicated