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Bath elementary school finishes school year under tents

Teachers and staff scrambled to get makeshift classrooms set up for Maine students whose classrooms were damaged by fire.

BATH, Maine — The man accused of intentionally setting fire to Dike-Newell Elementary School in Bath made his first court appearance on Monday. 

Firefighters knocked down the blaze on Friday, but on Monday, a hot spot reignited, damaging the kindergarten through second-grade school even more. Allan Thomas Vigil was arrested Saturday and has been charged with burglary and arson. 

Friday is the last day of school for the children now displaced, so teachers had to get creative. They've set up what they're calling Camp Dike-Newell, to make sure the kids have a safe space to finish learning and start healing. 

"They're going to their specials, they get breakfast, they've had reading," teacher Lynn Spivey said. Special care is being paid to each school day this week because — at least for the second graders — it's been a long two-and-a-half years. 

"These guys left their kindergarten year in March," Spivey said. "So every year, there's something." 

That included the fire last Friday and a flare-up again on Monday morning that destroyed their classrooms. It took some quick organizing to ensure the students would have a place to finish out their school year. 

"Monday, all of the teachers had zoom sessions early in the morning with their individual classes, so we could touch base and everyone could kind of give a check-in," teacher Kathy Henrickson said. "Then the rest of the day Monday we spent at Morse High School putting all of this together."

"All of this," being tents set up on the lawn of Fisher Mitchell School, the 3rd-5th grade school in Bath. The staff there welcomed the influx of students, while Fisher Mitchell students made signs letting the younger kids know that they were happy to share their space. 

Henrikson said the madness has been therapeutic for the students. "They're so little, developmentally, they really needed to see us, to be able to hug us, if they needed to. To be able to talk to us and have counseling available if they needed it. And this was a great way to give all of us that opportunity and closure for the school year and let them know [we] will be here next year for them too."

While the students eat lunch and drink water provided by members of the community, there are emotions of all kinds. 

"I went there. My mom was one of the school secretaries there in the seventies. I have three children who graduated from Dike Newell, and then I've been teaching there for 18 years. So, for me, it's 51 years with Dike-Newell," Henrikson said. She admits seeing the images of the burned school was overwhelming. "It was hard, but we all are here together. We have so much support, and we're gonna make it through."

That support has come in several forms, from supplies to volunteers, like Spivey, who retired from teaching last year but returned to help her former teammates and the students. 

"I've been subbing through the year with second-grade kids," Spivey said. "I needed to be here for them."

"It really does take a community to not only raise these children but also keep these children and let them grow into the wonderful adults they're going to become," Henrikson said. "So thank you to everyone ... everyone out there who helped."

Anyone interested in supporting the school can reach out to the Bath Elementary PTA. 

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