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A tornado warning disrupts a regular school day

“This is not open book. You have twenty minutes. And . . . begin,” says Mrs. Mulder, her eyes glancing at the clock.

I grip my pencil tightly in my hand, scanning the sheet in front of me. Two pages, front and back, all about grammar and phonics. Right at that exact moment, I swear I can hear about twenty-five inward groans from my classmates. I don’t know about you, but everyone in my class hates phonics and grammar. I sigh and sign my name at the top of the paper.

But before I can answer any of the quiz questions, I hear a voice from the loudspeaker in our classroom. It’s Mrs. Batangelo, our vice principal. “Students and staff, there is a tornado warning. This is not a drill. This is not a drill.” Her voice clicks off and the room falls silent.

My heart hammers in my throat. Wait. This isn’t a drill?

“Come on, kids,” Mrs. Mulder says, ushering us to the door leading to the hallway. We follow Mrs. Shipley and Mrs. Foley’s classes to the second- and third-grade common area.

“Lay down right here, friends,” Mrs. Mulder says, pointing. “Tuck your hands over your head and tuck your legs into your stomach.”

English-Spin-Wheel
English Spin Wheel

My classmates and I all get into this uncomfortable position. And we wait. And wait. And wait.

Minutes pass and feel as long as hours. I hear the teachers’ hushed voices and the howling wind outside, playing with the shutters as if they were a toy. After about fifteen minutes, Mrs. Mulder taps me on the shoulder.

“You can get up,” she says. For a split second, I think the not-a-drill is over, but no. I guess they just decided we shouldn’t have to sit in such a position for the next hour, or however long this would take. I lean against a filing cabinet, with the curved handles poking into my back. I wonder if this is any more comfortable than the other position.

I look around the room and scan the area. The second-graders are crying and clinging to their teachers and to each other. Some of the third-graders are also crying and clinging to Mrs. Foley. Suddenly, someone touches my hand. It’s my friend Alex.

“Lily,” she whispers, “I’m scared.” I look at the dancing shutters.

“Me too, Alex. Me too.”

After about forty-five minutes, Mrs. Batangelo’s voice comes on the intercom again. “Alright, everyone. The warning is over. Back to your class.”

Sighs of relief ripple across the common area. I stand up, Alex still clutching my hand. The wind has stopped toying with the shutters, at least for now. We all shuttle back into the classroom. I realize that we have missed a lot of class time—and possibly, hopefully—our phonics test.

But would anyone remember this? Would it be a school legend? Or just a far-off memory?

Those happy thoughts quickly fizzle. “Alright, class, remember: this is not an open book quiz. You have twenty minutes.”

The rest of the day played out as normal. On the bus ride home, everyone acted like normal. Was no one else affected by this? I wonder. I knew at least Alex was, and Bailey too. They had both been crying afterward. The second-graders, of course, and those kids who huddled around Mrs. Foley, must have been afraid too. But would anyone remember this? Would it be a school legend? Or just a far-off memory?

Now, as a fifth-grader, I realize that no one ever really forgot that event. During our personal narrative topic in fourth grade, almost everyone wrote about the experience. This wasn’t the only time there was a scary event at our school. One time, near the end of fourth grade, our speakers cut out before Mrs. Batangelo could say, “This is just a drill” during a routine lockdown drill. Now that was scary. That experience was short, though. The tornado wasn’t. It took up a big chunk of the day and left a lot of us scared for a long time. My memory of that day has become a bit foggy, but the most vivid piece was the shutters, the wind toying with them and blowing them hard against the school building, reminding us of the scary storm outside.

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