Clarksville Middle School played host last week to some 40 North Carolina students whose school was badly damaged by Hurricane Emily late last summer.
The Cape Hatteras School's entire eighth grade visited as part of the Lighthouse Exchange, a Clarksville-sponsored program that raised more than $5,000 to pay their travel expenses.
While Clarksville students got the chance to give their visitors hometown hospitality, they also fulfilled the state's new community service requirement for high school graduation.
"This is really an opportunity to see not only [how] they've helped out these students, but they also get to meet the people who they helped," said Mary McClurg, a Clarksville teacher who coordinated the program, named for the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, one of the East Coast's oldest.
"I'm proud of the students here," she said. "They accepted the project, took the initiative and took it as their own."
Clarksville students held dances, sponsored car washes and sold pins and T-shirts to raise the money that allowed their pen pals to spend almost a week in the Baltimore area. Several hundred dollars was left over, and the students plan to donate it to the Cape Hatteras School to rebuild its equipment inventory.
Clarksville students said they learned from participating in the program. Some headed such committees as public relations, boosters and fund raising to prepare for the students' visit. Others contacted companies for donations and discounts.
"I think we helped a lot of people, and we helped them get on their feet," said Karen Prangley, a 13-year-old Clarksville eighth-grader.
"I thought it was really nice we could do something to help a community in need and to bring the students up here to show them a good time," said 13-year-old Laura Askin.
Cape Hatteras students were grateful for Clarksville's generosity and said they enjoyed their stay, especially trips to Washington and Baltimore. They especially liked visiting the White House, many said.
The students left Friday, after visiting with their state's Sen. Jesse Helms at the Capitol.
"It was pretty cool, meeting all the people and stuff," said Cape Hatteras student Ryan Langowski. "They're really nice."
And the Clarksville girls, he added, are "really pretty."
Thirteen-year-old Kendra Jones left with good memories, new friends and three rolls of film.
"It was really generous of them to have us, really nice," said Kendra, whose small school includes students from kindergarten to 12th grade. "And there are so many eighth-graders."
As part of the Lighthouse Exchange, Clarksville students were scheduled to visit the fishing and resort island in October. But they had to cancel their visit to the Outer Banks because of last summer's Hurricane Emily, which left many students and their families homeless for months.
The 584-student Cape Hatteras school, built in the 1950s on the 60-mile-long island, suffered more than $3 million in damage. As much as 5 feet of water flooded classrooms and offices, destroying carpet, textbooks, tables, computers and tiles.
"The first level of the school was destroyed," recalled Eddie Harper, 13, from Cape Hatteras. "In some areas, there were snakes and dead fish in the water. There were 2 feet of sea grass in classrooms."
The school had no insurance and closed for two weeks as National Guard members and Red Cross workers pitched in to help rebuild. Even now, there is still no carpeting, and students use rusty desks for lack of new ones.
Clarksville students plan to visit Cape Hatteras next fall to study the lighthouse, Pamlico Sound, island folklore and navigation.