More than 2,300 Bay District students still displaced one year after Hurricane Michael

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BAY COUNTY. Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Brothers Hezekiah and Markess spend their Sunday downtime shooting hoops outside their home. Their basketball court is merely loose gravel. One of the many obstacles they face living in not one, but two separate FEMA trailers.

Brothers Hezekiah and Markess play on a basketball court that is merely loose gravel. (WJHG/WECP)

"At our apartment, if we really wanted to do something, we could just go outside because we had a park," Hezekiah said.

Hurricane Michael destroyed their Lynn Haven apartment, forcing the family to move from hotel to hotel four different times before moving to the Bay County Fairgrounds.

"My two oldest are in one, and me and Markess are here in this one. We're side by side so it's not terrible," Mom Kristi Edwards said.

Being forced to split up is the least of their worries.

"It's a lot more driving, and back where we used to go to school, we would just take the bus. It's more tiring because we have to wake up more early," Hezekiah and Markess said.

Before the storm, the boys went to Hiland Park and Mowatt. Now, Kristi drives them to school every morning over the bridge to Breakfast Point Academy.

"I take them to school. It's a long drive but I take them to school. To not uproot them again, yeah," Kristi said.

The drive is about 45 minutes long, making the boys and Kristi start their day even earlier.

Noticeably absent Sunday morning was the oldest, 18-year-old Ian, who now holds a full-time job.

"I don't ask him to help, but he does. He paid, I didn't ask him to, but he did. He paid. We have two separate water bills, two separate electric bill accounts. And they're really high," Kristi said. "But last month he paid both water bills for both trailers."

Ian took on a bigger role at home after the storm, nearly costing him his high school degree.

"He tried as hard as he could to adapt. But eventually ended up getting really far behind," Kristi said.

The switch from Mosley High School to Arnold High School made Ian enroll in classes he did not previously take.

"He told me he just got too far behind, and he didn't know what to do, and he didn't tell me because he didn't want to stress me out," Kristi said.

Defeating the odds stacked against him, Ian enrolled in online classes, and nonetheless, he graduated.

For Hezekiah and Markess, they have to spend the rest of their school days in the trailer indefinitely.

This is a problem more than 2,300 students in Bay District Schools are also facing one year after the storm.

"It's amazing how many kids were left behind," said Graduation Interventionist Sue Bowen.

That number is expected to rise.

At Cedar Grove Elementary, School Social Worker Tina Newsome said more than 100 students are displaced.

"They're still living in rented RVs, or FEMA trailers, or with other families. Doubled up with another family or even tripled up in some cases," Newsome said.

She also said displaced students have even more issues that stem from their living situation.

"Sometimes the students come to school not feeling their best because they never did get to take a shower. Or, maybe their clothes aren't clean because they're living in a rented RV, there's nowhere to do the laundry," Newsome said.

Classrooms at Cedar Grove are equipped with calm-down corners for the youngsters.

"Their tolerance for frustration is lower, their tolerance for anger is lower," Newsome said.

These tents serve as space for students to take a break, self-reflect, and hopefully avoid an escalated situation.

Bay District Schools as a whole is also taking extra steps to ensure students' well-being.

"What we're trying to do is ensure they have clothing to wear to school, ensured that they're enrolled and registered because you'd be surprised how many kids still aren't registered for school, a lot because they're displaced. And they're not sure where to register, because next week I may be somewhere else," Homeless Liaison Kay Daniel said.

And the week after that, they could be somewhere else. Some kids experienced an endless cycle of moving homes. And for others, the cycle still isn't over.

"Staying in a van, or he was staying in a tent, or he was staying behind somebody's house in a shed," Bowen recounts one high school senior's countless moves.

High school seniors not only faced the hardships of Michael, but they also had graduation to worry about.

"Most of them graduated, but we did lose a few. Hard losses too. So, they would almost make it to the end of their senior year, and then they would just disappear," Bowen said.

And like Ian, many others began working.

"If that included impeding their education, they would make that sacrifice," Bowen said.

Sacrifices no high student should ever have to make.

"It takes that innocence away, that's gone," Bowen said.

The innocence Kristi tries so hard to preserve in her boys as she continues to reach her goal of buying a house. A goal the hurricane forced her to put on hold.

"I love Panama City. The ugly truth about it is a year later," Kristi said.

Thousands of families are still displaced. Hezekiah and Markess are going to have to play on their makeshift gravel court for a little bit longer.

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