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Students from St. Anthony of Padua classrooms destroyed by fire welcomed to new class with pizza, pups

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Posted at 4:23 PM, Mar 07, 2022

PARMA, Ohio — For the first time since flames tore through their halls, Saint Anthony of Padua students are back in the classroom across town. 

St. Bridgette’s parish opened its recently shuttered school building to help provide some stability during this time of transition. 

A special lunchtime helped make the Monday morning return memorable. 

"It's tragic for the children that they had to switch schools," said Allan Divis, Parma City Council. 

Divis said council members wanted to do something to make day one memorable for the right reasons. 

"When I went to Marco's and asked them if we could buy all these pizzas they said they're going to donate it," said Divis. 

Divis dropped off 44 donated pies. 

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Students from Saint Anthony of Padua were welcomed on their first day in their new classroom with pizza and therapy dogs.

The gesture satisfied appetites while nourishing the soul of the 8th-grade class. 

"I'm glad the community came all together to help us," said eighth grade student Soraya Gakuru.

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Students from Saint Anthony of Padua were welcomed on their first day in their new classroom with pizza and therapy dogs.

Gakuru, along with classmate Logan Ocilka, is grateful for the continued support during this trying time. 

"The community actually cares that this bad thing has happened to us and our school," said Ocilka. 

The destructive fire last month is impacting these eighth-graders a bit differently. The teens were set to graduate from St. Anthony in the spring. 

"I think it's really sad because I have been there my entire life, since kindergarten, and knowing that I'm not going to graduate there is really sad, but I know I'm going to have my friends there with me," said eighth-grade student Gabriella Bordonero. 

While the junior high students were catching up with each other and carbo-loading, a team from Crisis Response Canines was helping set a positive tone with St. Anthony's littlest learners. 

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Students from Saint Anthony of Padua were welcomed on their first day in their new classroom with pizza and therapy dogs.

The non-profit asked to help with the transition. 

"As a former therapy dog owner myself, I graciously accepted their offer," said Patrick Klimkewicz, St. Anthony of Padua principal. 

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Students from Saint Anthony of Padua were welcomed on their first day in their new classroom with pizza and therapy dogs.

Klimkewicz said creating a whole new school environment in just ten days was a challenge. 

"If administrators thought COVID was bad, this is about 100 times worse," said Klimkewicz. 

The administrator is looking for help anywhere he can as he and the staff work to get students back on track before testing. 

"Some of those metrics are what we use to define our success during the year, so that kind of disruption at this time of year is difficult; it's a tough time for it," said Kilmkewicz. 

Pizza and pups eased that sting a bit for Logan Ocilka who described the vibe on day one as “love" — love that will help St. Anthony of Padua push ahead.  

"It feels like a big family," said Ocilka. 

The fire that tore through Saint Anthony's caused $1 million in damage. 

Repairs are expected to take several months. 

In the meantime, Parma Police are still trying to track down the arsonist. 

A $12,500 reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest. 

RELATED: St. Anthony of Padua students will return to class through good faith and community help

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