This year promises to be much different than the past years. After months of hauling debris, attending friends' funerals, watching endless TV images of their destroyed school and trying to put their lives back together, it was finally time to get back to what passes for normal in Joplin.
Joplin High School was destroyed in the May 22 tornado, so students are going to class in a vacant mall remodeled to look like a school.
Students arrived at the "mall school" Wednesday morning to a bevy of well-wishers holding Joplin High signs and lining the entrance road. Some met in modular classrooms, right next to a row of concrete-lined storm shelters. Others lingered in the hallways, reuniting with old friends.
The school system was especially hit hard by the disaster. One employee and seven students were among the victims, including a senior pulled from his car by vicious winds on his way home from Joplin High's Sunday afternoon graduation ceremony.
Six school buildings were destroyed, including Joplin High. Seven other buildings were badly damaged.