WOLF LAKE, IL (KFVS) - Monday, Jan. 11, the students of Shawnee High School returned to class having learned a lot of life lessons over their winter break.
Winter break was extended as the entirety of the school district fell under a voluntary evacuation order. The New Year Flood stressed aging levees and threatened to swamp the towns within it the district.
Monday in Jamie Nash-Mayberry's first period class, she asked how many students had helped sandbag and evacuated. More than half of the students in the class raised their hands.
The students in the district are no strangers to flooding. In fact, they've been studying the deteriorating conditions of the levees for years.
"The levee project is in its sixth year," Nash-Mayberry said. "We've done everything from talk to the different politicians about the flooding issues, sold T-shirts to help raise money for the levees, we've met with local levee commissioners to talk to them about what we can do to help.
"However, the New Year Flood forced those lessons in civic responsibility off the page, out of the classroom and into real life.
"When it came to reality it hit me," Shawnee High School senior Sierra Ramsay said. "Helping people move out and sandbagging and watching the river rise and rise … It really hit my family hard. We live right by the levees and we weren't really sure what was going to happen."
"It's kind of scary," senior Brady Reynolds said. "Just knowing that you live somewhere that could get washed away at any time."
Scary or not - when the water came up, the students didn't hesitate to join efforts in Grand Tower, Wolf Lake, East Cape, McClure and Thebes. Many students even found themselves on the front line of the flood fight.
"When we weren't sandbagging we were on levee patrol, looking for sand boils and people driving on the levees who weren't supposed to. Just keeping the area safe," senior Colby Kuberski said.
"It's really tough on you," Reynolds said of sandbagging. "It's tiring, and you're out in the cold. It's a long day."
"But it's kinda like – this is my hometown," senior Kayla Treece said. "We've got farmland down here. This is where we made home. We gotta sandbag and keep our homes here."
On Monday in government class, the students had just one assignment: record your memories.
"The students are documenting their experience with the New Year Flood," Nash-Mayberry said. "In a few years historians will want to document this flood, and maybe even 20 years from now students will be doing a history fair project and look back on his flood. This way they'll have documentation of what it was like to live through this New Year flood."
Now armed with their real-life river education, the students said they will continue their work to raise awareness and money to make much-needed repairs to the levees that protect their homes and school.
"I definitely realized we need to write more letters and get more people's attention let them know there's something going on and we need help," Reynolds said. "Hopefully the senator and congress realize that people down here matter."