At school Wednesday, the cafeteria looked like a military assembly hall and tiny kindergartners were strolling alongside big men wearing military fatigues.

School was very different for the children of Oquirrh Elementary School, with the younger half of them going the National Guard Armory in West Jordan and the older half going to Elk Ridge Middle School in South Jordan.Their own school, 7165 S. Paddington Road, was destroyed by fire Saturday, forcing Jordan School District officials to find replacement space in a hurry.

After an unscheduled two-day break from teachers and books, 935 excited and apprehensive Oquirrh students were back in classrooms at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

At the armory, 7602 S. Airport Road, the kindergarten through third-grade students were welcomed by teachers, parents and National Guard members and a big sign declaring the military installation "Oquirrh Elementary School."

Second-grade teacher Mona Thomas said her primary goal was to restore a sense of normalcy among her students.

"It's important for them to feel a sense of security, to know we are going to have school and that they're still learning. It will be an adventure. That's the way I'm going to look at it," she said.

Thomas said her students' pen pals at Jordan Ridge Elementary sent letters to help ease the transition. Many of the letters expressed sorrow about the school fire, but one boy wrote, "Do you like Ninjas?"

The school day started with an assembly conducted in the assembly hall, where principal Denis Lyons greeted the children and asked them to join him in the school song, punctuated with the children shouting, "We are the mountain men, yes sir, OK."

Teachers stood by, some wiping tears, moved by the children's exuberance.

Watching the kids step out of the school buses, National Guard spokes-man Lt. Col. George Becker said, "It's a good day. It's taken a lot of hustle to get this together."

He called the arrangement a "win-win" for everybody. "The National Guard is a community organization. We have soldiers in this command who live in this community. It's the right thing to do," Becker said.

The students will occupy about a third of the 65,000-square-foot building. Classrooms were hastily put together, with appropriate-size furniture for kindergarten children. Older students, however, will use the Guard's classroom desk and tables until new furniture ordered by the school district arrives next week.

The Jordan School District will reimburse the Guard for any remodeling and fencing necessary to house the schoolchildren. Guard members were busy installing fencing Wednesday to keep the children away from nearby railroad tracks.

Five-year-old Travis Bills waited anxiously for school to start, dangling his feet from a couch in the armory's foyer. His father, Dan Bills, said the boy was nervous about the change but "once he found out his friends were here, he was all right."

Travis interjected, "Now I'm feeling better because I'm going to be here."

Parent volunteers were out in force at the armory helping the children adjust to their new environment.

Fourth- through sixth-graders, meanwhile, started school Wednesday at Elk Ridge Middle School, 3649 W. 9800 South, and experienced some of the same excitement and uneasiness.

Doubtless, the transition will mean some adjustments for all parties at both locations. "The noise we're used to is aircraft taking off and coming in. The sound of little voices, we're not quite used to around here," Becker said.



A letter to displaced Oquirrh students

To the kids of Oquirrh Elementary School, currently being taught at the National Guard Armory and Elk Ridge Middle School:

Hi, kids, think of this as a message from your textbook. Not your usual textbook but a "living textbook" full of history in the making - including your own - facts about geography, art, music, science, social studies any and many of your other favorite subjects.

After all your stuff was lost in the fire Saturday, the Deseret News Newspaper in Education Department was asked to help out with newspapers and other curriculum materials.

Along with the daily paper, the Deseret News has sent along some special educational sections on a variety of topics, including American Indian legends, Japan, the environment, energy, minerals, water, families and more.

So, until you get all your regular books and supplies, read this. And please write back. We'd love to hear from you.

Your friends at the Deseret News.