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August 11, 2013

Teachers of tornado-ravaged school searching for normalcy

NORMAN — Moore Oklahoma’s Briarwood Elementary staff faces the daunting task of transforming Emmaus Baptist Church into their interim elementary school after an EF-5 tornado flattened their school building, but the predominant feeling is gratitude.

Sixth grade teacher Amy Chase, her two daughters and 10 of her sixth-graders were sheltered with many other students and staff in Briarwood’s hallways when the May 20 tornado brought the building crashing down around them, miraculously causing only minor injuries and no deaths.

“Most teachers here have the mentality that they lived through something disastrous; our students lived and we lived, and we’re all just blessed and thankful for that, so we take one day at a time,” Chase said.

In the aftermath of the traumatic event, Chase said teachers’ and administrators’ top priority is to help their students heal by reinstating some sense of normalcy and familiarity.

“Many of our students have gone to Briarwood for years so we want them to come in here and know that things are going to be OK, and that this will be a good place to have school,” Chase said.

As Principal Shelley McMillin observed, each child’s emotional and mental state will be very different based upon what each of them experienced May 20.

“I spoke to a PTA mom whose two sons were (at Briarwood) during the tornado. Now, she said one son scares very easily with loud noises and yells at people to duck down if he’s startled by a sound,” McMillin said. “Her other son had a wall collapse on him and had the feeling of suffocating, so now he’s always concerned about where air is coming from in a new place, to make sure there’s enough.”

McMillin’s own 13-year-old son witnessed his school’s significant damage while sheltering in the gym at Highland East Junior High School, and she said observing his behavior from a mother’s perspective has indicated what needs she may expect in her students.

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