Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Blake McGrail. This has since been corrected.
SEMINOLE, Okla. (KFOR) – Seminole Public Schools will be out of the classroom and in the community until Monday, May 16, to help its students begin the recovery process following two tornadoes that ripped through the town within 48 hours of each other.
“This is a time for recovery,” said Dr. Bob Gragg, superintendent of Seminole Public Schools. “We will finish on time. Right now is not a time to worry about making up classroom content; this is a time to serve. The lessons we are all learning right now cannot come from inside brick walls and will last a lifetime with our students, employees, and community.”
Dr. Gragg says though the district has been out of the traditional classroom since Thursday, May 5, teaching and learning are coming from unexpected places this week.
The “Love Bus,” a Seminole Public Schools bus that has been renamed and repurposed by district employees, is making stops around the community to check in on their fellow citizens – Chieftains or not.
The “Love Bus” volunteers hand out toiletries and lunch, and check on the welfare of anyone in the areas hit hardest by the early May storms.
During one “Love Bus” tour through the northside of Seminole, first-grade teacher, Belinda Cain and Northwood Elementary cafeteria employee, Shanda Hile, discovered a woman named Patty standing in ankle-deep water with her home’s roof ready to cave in on top of her.
Patty then boarded the “Love Bus” with Cain and Hile, who escorted her to the nearby Salvation Army shelter to escape the hazardous conditions.
“We are taking care of our people,” said Hile. “We are all one family. It breaks my heart to see people like this.”
However, teachers aren’t the only ones lending a helping hand to their neighbors – students of all ages gathered across town to assist in the recovery process.
Some high school track boys heeded their coach’s call and volunteered to help clean up tree limbs.
“They showed up before I did,” said Coach Bobby Sanford, Seminole Middle School geography teacher and High School Track Coach. “It is awesome to see not only the track athletes, but all the sports represented, the kids and their coaches and teachers, stepping up to lend a hand; our cheerleaders are here, and our principals are here.”
Others helped transport supplies and necessities to those in the community.
“I hate seeing the place I have grown up my entire life like this,” said Blake McGrail, Seminole track and field student. “One of my friends still doesn’t have power, and many people need help.”
Father, Jason Hudson and 7th-grade son, Tucker worked to help affected residents by handing out supplies and offering encouragement to those working to pick up the pieces.
“We live down south, so we grabbed donated supplies at the donation center and then go door to door and see who needs what; just doing our part to help out,” said Jason.
Many Seminole students are displaced and looking for new homes.
Blake Lena is currently living in a motel with his family.
Lena recently celebrated his 13th birthday, and his principals and teachers did not want him to let the momentous occasion go unnoticed.
Thanks to some help from community members, those educators were able to pick him up by bus at the motel he and his family are staying in and took him for a pizza lunch – complete with a cupcake, candles and $50 in cash for a birthday present he could pick out.
“The ‘Wow Factor’ lives within every person in Seminole. Right now, it is a brilliant bright light being
shone during a dark time to help families see the light and keep getting back up,” said Gragg. “It is a lesson that Seminole Public Schools hopes others beyond the community and state see and will help spread the light.”
Classes restart Monday, May 16. The Oklahoma State Department of Education is sending Crisis Response Counselors on Monday and Tuesday to support students as they transition back to school.
School officials do not anticipate additional days added to the school year.
If your Seminole student rides the bus and has been displaced due to the recent tornadoes, call 405-382-5085, ext. 611 to update transportation information.