Babysitting cats and doing students’ laundry are not the usual duties of a teacher, but very little is usual in the city of Garland, Texas right now. The day after Christmas, nine tornadoes whipped across North Texas. One plowed right through the city, destroying more than a thousand homes in a path thirteen miles long and a quarter mile wide.
A number of the schools in the Garland Independent School District were damaged. One, Glenn Heights, had entire walls sheered off in the EF-4 tornado. Fortunately, the storms happened during Christmas Break, the school buildings closed and empty. Tuesday, January 5th, the students came back to class as planned.
Well, not exactly as planned. Signs of the storm were everywhere. Pearson Elementary was handing out shirts for their students who had lost their things to the storms. Volunteers drove to neighboring towns to fetch students who had been displaced. 65 teachers across the school district have taken leave to deal with their own damaged or destroyed homes.
There is a united feeling of urgency among the community that school go on as normally as possible, even for students from Glenn Heights, who won’t be able to return to their own campus this year. Almost overnight, a nearby vacant junior high was refitted for the younger students. Teachers and staff took pains to decorate it as closely to the style of their old classrooms as possible. Most students, however, are more interested in the differences. Specifically, the lockers that make them feel like high school kids.
Teachers, while by no means exempt from the losses of the storms, are stepping up to provide individual assistance to their students’ families. A Pearson Elementary teacher is watching one of her student’s pet cat while the family stays in a no-pets rental. Another is letting any of her students bring in their laundry to be done at her home overnight and returned the next day.
While attendance seems to be at normal levels, most teachers have noticed one major detail; parents are walking their children to the doors, just as if it were the first day of school. And that’s not limited to the elementary school kids.
The community of Garland has taken a distinct blow. 11 people died in that night of storms, and much was lost that cannot be replaced. But their priorities for recovery are where they ought to be; with their children.