Students at Roger Bell New Tech Academy in Havelock got a late holiday surprise this week thanks to the charity of their counterparts in western North Carolina.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson visited the school Friday morning with boxes of books in tow. The books were donated by students in Union County, which is located just east of Charlotte, as a way to help Roger Bell students impacted by Hurricane Florence. Roger Bell was the last Craven County school to reopen after the storm, welcoming students back on October 19, more than a month after it suffered water damage from rain water blown into the building.


After a brief tour of the school led by Roger Bell New Tech Academy student ambassadors, Craven County Commissioner Theron McCabe, School Board Chairman David Hale and Craven County Schools Superintendent Meghan Doyle joined Johnson to hand out books to each student, which they were allowed to take home. The books ranged from "Star Wars" adventure titles to page turners such as “Pigs Can't Fly,” and “Won’t You Be My Kissaroo.” Cries of “I want Star Wars,” and “This is cool,” rang out in the halls as the children excitedly flipped through their new books.

“We have been collecting books for hurricane relief. We know that everyone here in the east was hit really hard,” Johnson told the students.

The state superintendent also brought along letters written by Union County children addressing the struggles of local students in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

“We want you to know that all of North Carolina, whether it’s really far away from you or right here at home, we want to make sure that you all get back on your feet and we’re really concerned about you,” said Johnson.

Quoting from one of the letters, Johnson read: “I hope the books will help you all. We’re so sorry about Hurricane Florence and we hope you are okay.”

Johnson said he visited Craven County shortly after the hurricane and toured storm damaged areas.

“Luckily the damage to the schools compared to the surrounding neighborhoods were minimal but we knew we had to get funds out to the schools so we did. We got over $80 million out to Eastern North Carolina on top of insurance and federal disaster relief,” said Johnson.

The superintendent said his administration was focused on “continuing the drum beat in Raleigh” to help rebuild school systems damaged in the hurricane. He said more than $1 million had been raised to help replace technology and furniture damaged in the storm, in addition to donations of supplies and books.

“We have put out the word across the nation and state to send books and school supplies to the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh and we’ll get these out to students and teachers in Eastern North Carolina who need them,” said Johnson.

Johnson said he was working to have a $2 billion school construction bond put on the state ballot.

“That’s because we need to not just patch up North Carolina, we need to come back bigger and stronger than ever before, with rural North Carolina as our main focus.. We cannot leave rural North carolina behind," he commented.

According to Superintendent Doyle, more than 1,000 Craven County students and in excess of 100 staff members were displaced because of the storm.

“Those are challenges that we continue to deal with daily and there’s not a day that goes by when we’re not talking with a teacher or our principals about the challenges that they’re confronting," she stated. "We continue to need support, supplies, and resources.”