EDITORIAL: Say goodbye to Columbia and hello to a bright future in Joplin schools

May 26—There were probably plenty of laughs and tears on Wednesday night as former students, teachers and staff members toured Columbia Elementary School in Joplin, which is set to be razed this summer.

How many thousands of individuals sat in those classrooms and walked through those hallways?

How many memories were made and friendships forged in that school?

"It's something you can't forget," Aiden Weeks, a 17-year-old junior at Joplin High School, told us. "You can't forget your elementary days."

A sentimental attachment to beloved things is understandable, and kudos to the Joplin School District for recognizing, through the scheduling of Wednesday's open house, that many people want to properly say goodbye and need that kind of closure to move forward.

But as Columbia fades into the past, let's not forget the present and the future. Look at the school system that has been built in this city since Columbia was constructed nearly a century ago.

Several schools are less than a decade old, having been built, by necessity, after the May 2011 tornado. Those include Joplin High School, Franklin Technology Center, East Middle School, Irving Elementary School and Soaring Heights Elementary School.

The other two middle schools, South and North, are also in good shape. South was built new and North was significantly renovated and expanded thanks to a bond issue approved by voters in 2007.

Even older schools such as Royal Heights (built in 1917), Jefferson (built in 1958) and McKinley (built in 1955) have received facility upgrades as recently as the mid-2000s, and some even more recently in 2014. Those schools and others also all received new gymnasiums that double as safe rooms in 2014.

And of course, Joplin's newest school, Dover Hill Elementary, opened in January to replace Columbia and West Central elementary schools.

Despite some thinking that learning can take place anywhere you have a good teacher and an eager student, having adequate facilities does matter to the learning environment. Students perform better by a variety of standards when they don't have to worry about the leak in their classroom ceiling, sharing a desk with a classmate in an overcrowded classroom or feeling ill because of poor ventilation.

There is some evidence that backs this up. Researchers at the California Policy Lab at UCLA and UC Berkley, in studying a $10 billion construction effort for Los Angeles schools, found that "school facility investments lead to modest, gradual improvements in student test scores, large immediate improvements in student attendance and significant improvements in student effort," they wrote in their 2018 paper. A smaller study of Connecticut schools, published in 2014 in the Journal of Public Economics, found that by six years after building occupancy, school construction increases reading scores.

The demolition of Columbia marks the end of an era, but Joplin should be proud of the schools it has today to take students further into the 21st century.