GAYLORD, Mich. — For students in Gaylord, the school bell was closely followed by an emergency alert, signaling the approach of an EF3 tornado that would ultimately kill two people and cause large-scale damage.
When the tornado hit, kids were already in buses and on the roads. In an interview with FOX 17, superintendent Brian Pearson described the day as ‘a bit harrowing for a while.”
“We have 25 bus routes across the district. We have a fairly large district, geographically, and they were out. We also had practices and clubs and sessions after school,” said Pearson.
To make the situation even more harrowing, Pearson said that the school lost all means of communication when the storm knocked out the town’s power.
School staff members, including bus drivers, took the tornado warnings seriously and managed to keep the kids safe until they were able to get home, a process that lasted hours for some.
“I’m thankful to our staff,” said Pearson. “We couldn’t contact them and say and direct them what to do. They did it on their own and did a remarkable job.”
Today, class was back in session at Gaylord Community Schools. But it was by no means a normal day of school for most students.
A traumatic event for the whole community, there were several students who had lost their homes or seen tremendous damage in their neighborhood.
“We had one bus route that one staff usually picks up, you know, 15-18 students. There was one student at that bus stop this morning, simply because all the houses are uninhabitable that are within that subdivision,” recalled Pearson.
What Gaylord students need right now varies. Pearson explains that while some students are in need of “basic things,” like food and shelter, the school is also trying to provide emotional support after surviving the tornado, with counselors and social workers working hard to help students.
Meanwhile, the staff members at Gaylord Community Schools were also impacted seriously by Friday’s storm. Nonetheless, Pearson says that the teachers and staff members rolled up their sleeves and got to work reopening the school today.
“I’d say through tough times you really find out what an organization or an individual is made of,” said Pearson.
Still, there are concerns for the future. While Pearson assured FOX 17 that Gaylord students are “good right now” and “resilient,” he wonders what will happen in the long run.
“When you look at places where neighborhoods have been flattened, where are those people going to live? I know where they are now. They're with friends, family, shelters. But is that sustainable? Where are they going to be a month from now? Or two months from now? Are they going to have to move or go someplace else? So I don't know what the answer is to that.”
In the meantime, however, Gaylord Community Schools is determined to keep classes running and kids learning, despite the challenges, and Pearson says that he is somehow optimistic about the town's road to recovery.
“I’m not going to say that it was a normal day this morning, as I went around and looked into classrooms, but it was a very good day.”