Because of flooding at their Newry school, Eddy Middle School students are using the West Parish Congregational Church basement for class. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — The snowy center of Park Street beside The West Parish Congregational Church is full of life as Eddy Middle School students run forward and backwards through the deep snow.

When teacher Deb Webster, shouts, “it’s time for cake,” Corbin Hanna, 12, of Andover, stays briefly, lying in the snow, staring at the clouds.

Webster said when her small, independent Newry school flooded in December, Pastor Tim LeConey made room for them at the Bethel church. She said parishioners have been welcoming, too. “We are so glad you’re here. Your energy is amazing. We are so glad this space isn’t empty. Stay as long as you need to. We love having you here,'” they have said.

Asked about her flooded school, she says, “A river runs through it,”

When the rain came on Dec. 18 she rushed over from her Rumford home, then waded through thigh-high water surrounding the building to save the supplies from her school at the start of Bear River Road.

Her students, already on Christmas break, returned the next day with their families to help gut the building. They came for about a week and some are still coming, she said.


“We are slowly but surely rebuilding,” said Webster, whose husband Doug is organizing most of the construction with help from others.

Eddy Middle Student Katelyn Ottone, 11, of Newry sketches during recess at West Parish Congregational Church. Rose Lincoln/Bethel Citizen

The large lower dining room in the church is home base now. Students Corbin Hanna and Teddy Crockett, 12, of Albany, show up early most days  to shovel the pathways around the church. They are learning ‘giving back’, said their teacher. Recently the school was gifted a $20,000 matching grant toward rebuilding costs. They have raised $5,000 – $6,000 through a GoFundMe, set up by a parent.

Webster and her 14 students are discussing creating some kind of plaque that would mark the historical height the water reached. They might create copper stamps with the donors’ names to be a part of the marker, too.

Today the students are in a wide span around the church. Some are playing tag, others are chatting. Katelyn Ottone, 11, of Newry, is sitting in the snow, leaning her back against a tree and drawing a camera on her sketchpad.

“You get all sorts of freedom and responsibility, until you don’t,” Webster says of her “non-helicopter” [hovering] teaching style.

Of their current situation, Webster says, remote school was always an option.

“But nobody wants that. Then this opened up. It has been such a blessing.

“Gould [Academy] said, ‘use the field. Do whatever you need.’ People are watching out for us and taking care of us,” she said.

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