Journal of a Joplin Teacher

With School starting in the area, I thought this was just really cool.  Maybe not something y’all would be interested in, however some of this stuff I want to remember.

This is from the journal of a teacher in Joplin, Missouri, as the
school year is beginning. It puts many things into perspective.

This may end up being my last tornado journal update. You want to know why?

Because for the first time in 87 days, I have been able to breathe today.   I have been able to feel almost normal today. My kids were able to sleep and  have something to wake up for today. We didn’t have to spend our summer days wishing the pools hadn’t been destroyed. We didn’t have to wish we could go to our favorite parks, only to remember that they are no longer there.
We didn’t have to do anything that revolved around the tornado. We got to get up and go to school!

With the help of donations from around the world, these kids came back in style! Every child received a backpack with Joplin Eagles and our eagle logo on the front that was filled with school supplies appropriate for the grade. Every high school student–whether they were going back to school at the mall campus or the old middle school–received a laptop in the backpack. They will do all of their learning via the computers since the textbooks were destroyed.

There is a coffee bar set up in the mall campus that the business classes will run. A theater in Branson adopted the drama department. Barry Manilow sent a truckload of instruments for the
band.   Amazon donated truckloads of books. As we walked into our building this morning, members of a local church greeted every child and teacher with smiles, high fives, handshakes, and snacks! Media outlets, both local and national, filmed at the various school locations, focusing on the more innovative spots like the high school in the mall and the middle school in  an old warehouse. These children will not be disappointed with the facilities that were amazingly constructed over a few weeks’ time. It took a lot of time and effort from many people. We had volunteers from around the country putting together furniture, stocking libraries, cleaning new  desks, filling all of those backpacks. There is even a health club in the new high school because there was not space for a traditional gym. Talk about getting the job done!

As a teacher, the best part about today was seeing the kids. There were some physical injuries from the tornado that were still visible. There will be even more emotional scars that will pop up in the days to come. Several former students wanted to tell me their stories today. One boy crawled out of his house after the tornado was over to find an arm in his front yard. Another 7th grader found a child when he was helping to clear the rubble near his home-the child hadn’t survived. Another talked about coming up from his basement to find that there was nothing left of his house and how disorienting that was for him.

I was lucky enough to be trained by Dr. Arshad Husain and his staff of trauma psychiatrists and psychologists in a  Teachers As Therapists program. I have to admit that it seemed a little  weird to me that our town needed this type of training as I knew his team works with children experiencing major trauma. I had to admit that we did indeed need his help.

Today, though, the tears were mostly from joy and pride and, yes, that hope we talk about around here all the time. It finally feels like we are healing. Never underestimate the role that a school system plays in a community. It was a huge step for our town to get back to normalcy.

We had our Welcome Back session on Monday for all Joplin Schools employees. It had all of the usual things you would expect–the cheerleaders, the band, the speeches. It also had a lot of things we didn’t expect–the entire sidewalk heading into the auditorium lined with people from the community shouting “thank you” and holding up “good luck” signs, a copy of the USA Today on every seat that featured a front page story about our schools and one of our students, the governor praising our school and city efforts since the tornado, and even a video with celebrities like Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Charles Barkley, Sugarland, and Lady Antebellum wishing us good luck and shouting, “Go Eagles.” There were boxes of Kleenex scattered around the seats because this was no ordinary Back to School session. This one made everyone in that room proud to be an Eagle and proud of our town! Even though it is still going to be awhile before we can truly get things back to normal, we are headed in the right direction. When you have hope, nothing is unreachable!

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