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Video: Makeover lifts spirits at tornado-ravaged school

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    >> we're back now at 8:40, this morning on education nation today, a makeover with a real message, and it was badly needed after a tornado at the end of the last school year tore apart a are the chaer school in northern minneapolis . "today" contributing correspondent jenna bush hager is here with details oen this. good morning.

    >> good morning, matt, with he teamed up with george oliphat from lxtv's " george the rescue" in order to give these kids a new place to nourish both their bodies and their minds. it was late last may when deadly tornadoes crashed through northern minneapolis , homes were destroyed, trees uprooted and for the 350 students at the k through six charter school sojourner school academy classes came to an abrupt halt.

    >> the roof was damaged and the irtire gym flooded and i got sad and felt like crying.

    >> reporter: in less than a minute 90% of the roof destroyed and interior flooded leaving behind half a million dollars in damages.

    >> the tornado hit the school and we didn't get to finish the school year and i was kind of sad.

    >> reporter: and yet, they considered themselves lucky, in one very important way. since it was sunday, the school was closed.

    >> we had over 90 windows in the building break. it would have been a tragedy not just a disaster.

    >> reporter: tell me a little bit about this community here.

    >> to this community we're in north minneapolis , a vibrant community, lots of different races living together but it's also a community that has seen its share of difficulties.

    >> reporter: so for some of these students, school is their safe haven.

    >> we've got a handful of kids that are homeless in shelters now, some of it's due to the tornado and some of it's just whatever situation they're in.

    >> reporter: what's it like for those kids?

    >> it's nice for them to have a space like school to come to, with where they want to come and they enjoy it and know when they walk in the doors they're valued and cared about and their teachers love them.

    >> reporter: while insurance covered most of the repairs there was work to be done. we joined forces with george oliphant to fix one room essential to any school building, the cafeteria. what are we going to do?

    >> floor to ceiling renovation, rip down the floors, new ceilings, new light, no paint.

    >> it's hot.

    >> got to throw in air conditioning . one, two, three, rescue!

    >> reporter: two two weeks george and his team worked on reforming this room located into the basement for a multipurpose for lunch and learning. teachers are going to be able to use this in so many ways. it's awesome. so we got a little distracted while working. i love myself a power tool .

    >> perfect. you think right here?

    >> reporter: awe you had.

    >> waste, bottles, cans, plastics.

    >> reporter: for the finishing touch we'll stop by this second grade class to pick up second grade arts.

    >> this is where the tree lit my house?

    >> reporter: did you have to move?

    >> let's build a school .

    >> your art in the brand new cafeteria. what do you think? we can hear the kids.

    >> yeah, this is when your heart gets going, get excited.

    >> reporter: i kind of have butterflies.

    >> one, two, three!

    >> yeah!

    >> reporter: you're on tv.

    >> we've been through so much especially with the tornado and to have something brand new, i can't even imagine how they must feel.

    >> awesome! this is like, like heaven.

    >> reporter: keep learning. you can learn even in this room.

    >> enjoy it, all right?

    >> reporter: yeah!

    >> guys, thank you so much.

    >> reporter: whoa, whoa! the smiles on the kids faces say it all but there's actual research that confirms that the way a school looks and feels helps give the kids the confidence to learn and grow.

    >> it's not just superficial, if you like your surroundings, you will be encouraged to spend more time there, and enjoy your time there more.

    >> exactly. we obviously have to thank the man that did it all.

    >> how much time did you spend there, george ?

    >> three weeks, three weeks at the school . it was amazing walking down the halls every day, doing high fives with the kids. i felt like i was back in school , so it was such a rewarding experience and then jenna came in and brought some pop to the project.

    >> came in for a little pop.

    >> came in for a little pop. okay. got it.

    >> a power tool --

    >> she's great with the drill, she can be on the rescue any time.

    >> i will hold you to that.

    >> thank you very much. watch the entire project unfold this season on " george to the rescue" check your local listings

updated 9/28/2011 7:54:28 AM ET 2011-09-28T11:54:28

Correctly answer 25 addition and subtraction problems in one minute. Seems easy enough, right? It's something that you might have had to do when you were in elementary school.

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Well, to make the challenge a little harder, add in 20 screaming second graders. This is what I walked into when asked to have lunch with Ms. Annika's 2nd grade class in their classroom at Sojourner Truth Academy in North Minneapolis, MN.

Video: Makeover lifts spirits at tornado-ravaged school (on this page)

The students at Sojourner Truth Academy spent the first two weeks of the school year eating in their classrooms. That's because a team of contractors from Welsh Construction and designers from Martha O'Hara Interiors and I were in the midst of renovating the school’s cafeteria, which was still reeling from when the school was struck by an E2 tornado last May. Although crews had been working tirelessly all summer to get the school back in condition to open its doors for the new year, the cafeteria had yet to be touched. That’s where we came in.

George to the Rescue's first attempt at helping a school was a smashing success. We gutted the cafeteria from floor to ceiling and in its place we made sure that we truly were building for the future. We replaced old lights with new top-of-the-line Sylvania energy efficient bulbs. The new floor was Johnsonite VET tiles, which are made up of recycled material. And on the walls, we added a much-needed coat of paint. With a nice mixture of Benjamin Moore Aura Neon red and Smokey ember, the cafeteria got a clean, crisp new look.

But it wasn’t just the materials that got the job done; it was the people who came together in so many different ways to make this project possible, too. I had always heard about how great Midwesterners are — they greet you with a friendly smile and are quick to lend a helping hand. That was true from the moment we arrived until the moment we left.

Story: In Joplin, a diner serves up shelter from the storm

Steve Barber, the safety guru from 3M, a local Minnesota company, treated us likes friends rather than clients and made sure everyone was properly outfitted with safety gear so that there was no chance of anyone getting hurt on the job site. And Maggie, the concierge at the Holiday Inn and Suites Maple Grove got so used to having us around the hotel that she gave me a birthday card while I was staying there.

Story: Jenna Bush Hager: Kids of 9/11 'are so much more'

When it was all said and done, I was very proud of what had been accomplished. The cafeteria is now state of the art, outfitted with educational tools that were on par with what you'd find in a college classroom as well as eco-friendly items such as a Maytag energy star washer/dryer set and two Mitsubishi HVAC systems from The Home Depot. However, the reward came when the students and faculty from STA saw their new cafeteria for the first time. Finally, their school repairs were finished and life could return to normal, which is the most important thing any teacher will tell you. One of the best moments from reveal day was when I overheard a third grader saying, “I love this school now!”

By the way, I aced the test, actually finishing in a blazing 15 seconds. Not that I would've known it. Time seemed to stand still as I pondered the correct answer for 8 minus 1. The pressure was intense!

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