Imagine for a minute 3,400 plus students and 500 staff members all sitting on the floors of their respective schools for over an hour. Our required tornado drills usually last about 5 minutes and then its back to the normal business of the day. Yesterday was not a "drill." The sirens blared the warning, TV and radio stations urged the community to take cover, and when the winds came we knew that things could get worse in a matter of minutes.
It would be natural to think that learning stopped for the duration of the warning and that all other support services shut down as well. Immediately after the warning was lifted I headed to the monthly senior citizen luncheon. Over 40 people were just finishing up the pre-meal prayer with a word of thanks for keeping everyone safe. On a normal day, student volunteers from the high school serve lunch and interact with the senior citizens but on this day the students had already moved to an alternate schedule at the high school due to the tornado warning. I know the senior citizens were disappointed to have lunch served by the superintendent and central office staff rather than the students as the interaction with our students is highly valued.
Following lunch I visited our schools just to thank people for the good work in keeping our students safe during the tornado warning. I was not surprised when staff told me about how they had handled the "little interruption" in the day. High school teacher Eva Miller told me she used the hour to individually tutor a special needs student who had trouble with telling time. Eva said the hour long, one-on-one, tutoring while sitting next to the student, resulted in the student "getting it." Of course we had a few high school students who believed if they sent a text to their parents saying the high school was canceling school for the day it would actually come true.
Our staff and students at East Campus did a remarkable job of dealing with a tornado warning even though they know their building is the most vulnerable site in our district should a tornado touch down. I am convinced that we must find a way to build a safer structure to house our alternative programs.
Over at Crossroads, the kids who were at lunch when the warning went into effect, returned to the hallways outside their classrooms and had a "picnic" with their teachers. Same was true at Highlands and the lunch room staff made plans to feed the rest of the kids after the drill was lifted. Both schools did "whatever it takes" to keep things as normal as possible.
Jean Sonday at East Oakview was busy working on math facts with her kids in the hallway. She informed me that brain research tells us it is hard to shift into a reptilian "fight or flight" fear response when you are thinking about math. My recall of high school geometry class test days would dispute that comment but that is a topic for another blog post.
North and West Oakview had very similar stories. While kids were nervous, they modeled the very calm behavior of the adults and felt safe. By 2:00 p.m. no one could see a shred of evidence that the day was interrupted by an October tornado warning.
A few members of our community called or sent an email message questioning our decision to bring students to school when a tornado watch had been posted. We did follow our established policy #8420 Emergency Situations at Schools (Evacuation, Fire, Tornado, Lockdown, Unusual) - Tornado Watch. This policy states "A tornado watch is a forecast of the possibility of one or more tornadoes in a large area. When a tornado watch is in effect, the District will continue normal activities but move recess and physical education activities indoors. Each building and department shall designate someone to be responsible for continuously monitoring the watch while students are in the building or on the premises. School will not be dismissed early and dismissal time will be at the regular time even if the watch is still in effect." We also believed if we canceled school it would result in many of our students being at home without adult supervision. As is the normal practice after an issue like we faced together yesterday, our Board of Education will review the policy to see if changes are needed.
I hope the strong winds blew the leaves off your lawn. If so maybe you could help the neighbor rake your leaves from their yard.
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