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Teaching After the Good Friday Tornado Janette Lonsdale • Thu, Jun 02, 2011

With the close of schools for summer, teachers have time to reflect. For local resident Eve Drueke this means looking back on the days after the Good Friday tornado, and the impact it had on her kindergarten class at a Rose Acres School. Like many St. Louis residents, Drueke watched the storm roll in. Meanwhile, in Rose Acres, where Drueke works at the Pattonville Lafayette Sq resident and Pattonville School District, her students were feeling the teacher full force of the storm. It was the worst storm to hit the region in 40 years according to the National Weather Service with winds from 165 to 200 mph. On Saturday morning, when the full extent of the storm damage was becoming clear, Drueke was glued to her phone and Facebook, checking up on her students and their families. Monday was a workday like never before. “I come in from I-270, so everything looked pretty normal to me… it looked like there had been a good storm,” said Drueke. “But when we got to the neighborhoods behind the school where our district kiddos live, it looked like a movie scene. The school building was intact, but branches, bits of siding and shingles littered the school grounds. Power lines were down everywhere and it was difficult to even remember the neat streets that surrounded the school just days before. Clean up work was already underway and rooftops were dotted with blue tarps. The sound of chain saws and wood chippers rang out everywhere. “Huge old trees were sticking up like they were broken off twigs and there were a lot of branches that were obscuring everything,” said Drueke. “We could see into peoples bathrooms and halls.” The school district, which already had a disaster plan in place, was ready to mobilize. On Monday morning the family of every student in the school was called, their status checked, and their immediate needs assessed. To get displaced children to school on Tuesday a bus route was planned to pick up students from hotels and the homes of friends and family. By 10 a.m., teachers, mothers and fathers, and other schools, were opening up donation drives for clothes, toiletries and heavy duty cleaning products. “Members of a dance team from the high school went to Schnucks to solicit donations for the people whose food got ruined,” said Drueke. “It was kind of amazing that we knew where everybody was and what their needs were, all before Monday lunch.” Service International, an organization that provides disaster relief worldwide, was on the scene and school staff joined its clean-up crews. “They gave us t-shirts, work gloves and told us where to go,” she said. “We cleaned out a yard in an hour with a couple of guys with chain saws; there were so many people we kind of made an assembly line and just hauled branches.” School was open again for lessons on Tuesday morning. Children who were obviously upset, unusually talkative, withdrawn or whose home had sustained serious damage, were closely monitored by teachers, counselors and social workers, many of whom were called in for the disaster. “They even hired roving subs for teachers,” said Drueke. “If teachers were upset

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and needed a couple of minutes to compose themselves or call a handy man or just needed a break from all the stress.” Out of the 300 students in the K-5 school, many student's homes had sustained damage, but only a few students would be out of their homes for months. A couple of the teachers and a nurse were also dealing with home damage. According to Drueke, all lessons plans for the day were set aside. “I teach kindergarten, and they really wanted to talk a lot,” she said. “We spent most of the morning reading books about being scared and being brave and they really wanted to draw about the tornado and write about it.” The experience came out in play too. Drueke observed how her students reenacted the tornado in Lego games. For the most part, students were excited by the great adventure of the storm and were enthusiastic to tell each other about trees up rooted, buildings damage and siding torn off walls. All during that first day back at school and for a number of days after, school staff watched the weather forecast with unease. They were concerned how the children would react if there was another bad storm and sirens. Teachers worked to help children acknowledge scary things and feel safe. With the school’s policy of regular fire, earthquake and intruder drills, both students and teachers knew they would know what to do in an emergency. Through good disaster planning and the help of volunteers and generous donations, the immediate needs of the school’s students and their families were met within four days of the storm. However, for some families ongoing support is needed and is being provided by Patton Care. It is an organization that offers support to Pattonville School District families in crisis. For more information: To make a donation to Patton Care, the victims of the Good Friday Tornado and tornado victims in Joplin MO, visit the Pattonville School District website: http://www.psdr3.org

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YourLocalMessenger - Teaching After the Good Friday Tornado