Wednesday, April 14, 1999

Teachers give youngsters time to share feelings

Grade school starts first day back with hugs, calm music

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        BLUE ASH — Linda Wulff waited anxiously Tuesday as the buses pulled up to Maple Dale Elementary School. The principal was glad to see her students, and the hugs showed.

        After a day off Monday, students in the Sycamore Community School District resumed classes for the first time since Friday's tornado.

        At Maple Dale, the hugs by Ms. Wulff and teachers began a day of nurturing for the 628 kindergartners through fourth-graders. Ms. Wulff estimated that one of every six of her students was directly affected by the tornado, which killed four people, injured dozens and destroyed hundreds of homes.

        Ms. Wulff's home was without power for two days. This made it difficult for her to communicate with staff members and keep abreast of the tornado's impact. It was hours later when she learned of the storm's destruction. She said she felt helpless when she wasn't allowed access to the scene immediately.

        Throughout the weekend, she and other staff members volunteered in cleanup efforts. It was therapeutic for them. To help the students heal, Ms. Wulff said, the staff wanted to witness the ravaged areas and put the matter in perspective.

        Teachers spent Tuesday letting students talk about their experiences.

        Staff members rode school buses with children so they could see familiar faces. Inside the school, students listened to five minutes of calming music over the intercom. The PTA brought food for the students, and 12 counselors were on hand.

        Ms. Wulff visited classrooms to hear what students were saying. She heard one third-grader, whose home was destroyed, describe what happened:

        “The wind was blowing in my face. I looked up and saw the sky. The window tried to pull my mom out ... then a mattress fell on me. The bookcase fell on my mom and held her down. But it really (got) dark and it was raining. We went to the car because it was warmest and it became our den.”

        She heard a second-grader say: “We were in a huddle and put our arms around each other because that was the safest place.”

        Besides sharing their feelings, students enjoyed extra recreation time and drew pictures of the tornado's impact.

        Teachers surveyed students to determine how they were affected. And each teacher read a book aloud about tornadoes.

        “It has been a wonderful day because, for the first time, we got to see all of our children together again,” Ms. Wulff said.

        “I think they will not understand all that we were trying to do, but hopefully they felt it.”


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