By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Norman Wilders Mountain School classroom doesnt have the alphabet anywhere on the walls nor any brightly colored posters or bookshelves.

But it does have a teacher and students filled with hope for the future, something that seemed unimaginable just over two weeks ago when Mountain Schools main building burned to the ground.

Ive been teaching for over 20 years, so I had a lot of stuff lost to that fire. But, I got to get all new things and out of all this, the new school should be bigger and better, Wilder said.

There is still a burnt smell lingering near the fire-gutted classrooms at the Gasquet school a victim of arson just two weeks before the beginning of school.

Though the main school building was declared a total loss, the schools office files and two portable classrooms one of which was used as the lunchroom were spared.

Mountain Schools 65 students are now displaced from their old large, well-supplied and decorated rooms to the bare-walled and smaller portables.

Despite the many changes and the dire lack of space, secretary Jill Herrmann said the first day of school Monday went very smoothly.

Its one of the better starts weve had. Everyone here has just pulled together to make this work, Herrmann said.

The schools new principal, Dennis Burns held an assembly yesterday morning to rally the students and introduce himself.

About 125 people showed up for the gathering to support the students and teachers.

And we only have about 65 students, so it was really the whole community that showed up, said Instructional Assistant Laura Ritchins.

Because the schools American flags were destroyed in the fire, Herrmann said one student, a Boy Scout, held one teachers American flag at honors so everyone could do the Pledge of Allegiance together.

As a school, we stood together, she said.

Because of the helping-hand attitude of the community and of the teachers all over the district, Wilder said the classrooms would not remain spartan for long.

Ive gotten calls from people I hardly know offering things, Wilder said.

Parents and teachers have offered everything from cash to notebooks, according to Wilder.

Such offerings shouldnt be necessary now, however. The districts insurance covers everything that was in the classrooms, including personal property.

In the meantime, everyone is making do. With no cafeteria, each class gets an outdoor picnic every day for lunch. And with no restrooms, students use one of seven porta-potties.

Its the little things, like theres no drinking fountain, so we brought in bottled water and cups, Wilder said.

The changes seem to be harder on the older students, according to Wilder, who teaches the second- and third-grade class.

At this age, its not too hard for them, but Ive talked to the older kids who have progressed through all the classrooms that burned. They just had to cry, I mean that school was a part of their lives they had to watch go, he said.

Two female juveniles were arrested in connection with the fire last week. Detectives at the Del Norte County Sheriffs Department said they suspect more people were involved in causing the fire, but no more arrests have been made.

Detective Pat Martin said the investigation will continue for a few more days, though, he said it should be wrapped up soon.

Until the investigation is completed, no information about what caused the fire will be released, Martin said.