The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

June 23, 2011

Mike Pound: Storm-created uncertainties tough for kids

JOPLIN, Mo. — Cassie Chandler on Thursday walked back from a table that was covered with items that had been salvaged from the rubble that used to be St. Mary’s Elementary School, carrying three books and a plastic, purple, vase-like container.

The school was destroyed in the May 22 tornado, and the items had been there for some time. They had little value other than the sentimental kind, and sentiment was very much on Cassie’s mind when she plucked the books and the purple container off the table.

“We read these in class this year,” Cassie said, holding up the books.

The books were not in the condition that normally attracts collectors. They were dirty, and the pages were waterlogged and swollen from being in the elements for more than a month. But Cassie wasn’t really collecting books. She was collecting memories.

Cassie, this past school year, was a St. Mary’s fifth-grader. Her teacher was Emily Lone. I was chatting with Cassie’s mother, Kathleen, when Cassie came up to us with the books. When I asked Cassie why she wanted the books, she looked at me as if I didn’t hear her the first time.

“Because we read them in class this year,” she patiently repeated.

I felt like a moron.

For Cassie, who will move on to St. Peter’s Middle School this fall, the books, I’m thinking, will serve as a physical reminder of her last year in elementary school.

Kathleen, who is president of the St. Mary’s Home and Parent Organization, said that if ever there was a summer when kids needed to get back to school, this is that summer.

“It will be better when they can all be together,” she said. “They have been separated from their friends, and it’s that not knowing where they are or how they are that’s tough.”

While we talked, Kathleen’s son, Kirk, who just finished second grade at St. Mary’s, walked up. He was holding a crayon he had found on a table containing items from his classroom.

Almost on cue, Kirk spoke up.

“Mom, where are we going to go to school?” he asked.

“We don’t need to worry about that today,” Kathleen said gently.

Kathleen knows, of course, that Kirk and hundreds of other Joplin area kids are worried about where they will go to school and, perhaps more importantly, where their friends will be going to school. The problem is that, like many parents, Kathleen can’t answer that question right now.

“We just want them to be in a safe and secure place where they feel comfortable, and so we can hopefully make the transition not so severe,” she said.

The path toward that goal began last week when a group of St. Mary’s supporters raised more than $6,500 at a lemonade stand they set up during the monthly downtown Third Thursday event. Tracey Welch, who dreamed shortly after the tornado about a lemonade stand that raised $25,000, said the event was such a success that a second one is planned for next month’s Third Thursday.

Tracey said it’s possible that $10,000 will be raised by the end of July. And when you add a $10,000 match promised by Winco International Fireworks — the parent company of Joplin’s Black Market Fireworks — the St. Mary’s group will have raised $20,000 in a little less than two months.

The money will be used to purchase teaching supplies to replace those lost in the tornado — the sorts of things that Tracey said help make a classroom a classroom.

“We want those kids to walk into welcoming and inviting classrooms where their teachers have the tools they need to teach,” she said.

By the way, that plastic, purple, vase-like container that Cassie found was where she and her classmates dropped money that went to a classroom fund used for special school-related events. Cassie is going to clean the container and give it back to her teacher so that Emily can create some new memories for next year’s fifth-grade students.

I thought that was something.

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Tornado: Mike Pound