Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Code Red. Move immediately to your safe zone

I got a subbing job yesterday. It was the first time I was inside a regular classroom in 14 years. It didn't take long to get back on the bicycle, just like I never fell off. By afternoon we were clicking along, Social Studies mapping lesson well underway, troublemakers identified and dealt with, "good notes" passed out, and vomiting incidents averted. A typical day in the third grade classroom.

Until 2:15 that is. Then everything became atypical.

I had just told them to take out their Social Studies practice books so we could continue the mapping lesson, when the office intercom clicked on. "We are in a Code Red. Please move to your safe zones immediately."

Uh-oh. Code red sounded bad. And I had no idea where the 'safe zones' were. Obviously our classroom had just suddenly become an UNsafe zone. And I had 23 kids to take care of.

I nabbed a teacher passing by in the hall, she said to move to the interior of the school, and when I stepped to the center of the hall and looked down the interior corridor, I saw a sight I hope I never to see again. 100 little bodies were already crouched on their knees head down, along the wall in a fetal position with their hands over their head. Never have so many little kids looked so vulnerable than when engaged in "duck and cover."

A tornado warning had been issued.

It looked so dark outside, and turning back into my class I told the kids to line up and we hustled into the hall. We had them to sit with with their backs to the wall, since the first bunch of kids had been released from duck and cover. I was proud that they moved efficiently, but the words 'Code Red' sparked some to fear. Their eyes were starting to go wide. One little boy who was already dreadfully afraid of tornadoes started to cry. He knew that was what the issue was, "I heard on the news this morning there may be tornadoes this afternoon and I hate tornadoes. I don't want to die-yyyyy" he wailed. That got a couple of the other kids crying, but we calmed them down. All this took about about minute since the intercom came on.

I counted the kids, saw one was missing and asked the para-professional where he was. She had him with her around the banister. OK. I counted them again, and mentally tried to picture how many I could fling myself upon if debris started flying. I looked for glass. I memorized the exits. I searched for the emergency lights. I smiled and told jokes. One little trooper told me one back: he had written during creative writing that he wished he had a green 4-wheeler that went a million miles an hour. "I hope the tornado doesn't destroy my new imaginary 4-wheeler," he said. Awww, what a good sport. The afraid boy started crying harder and was fairly inconsolable, so we brought him to his sister who comforted him. Soon after his mom came to pick him up.

We stayed that way during the usual time to pack up and then right on through the dismissal time. The kids were very good, despite their fear and the increasing stuffiness of the hallway with 400 kids and 30 some-odd teachers crowding every bit of space.

We should be very proud of all the kids and of the teachers in this emergency. Everyone was respectful and the Administrators and teachers had everything well in hand, competently managing the situation in the safest way possible.

Here is a story about the storm from Madison County Journal, with neighboring town of Commerce not so lucky as us crouching inside the halls of Comer Elementary School.

Praise God. It could have been a lot worse.

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