BCLUW: Students Receive Life Lesson in Compassion
Picking Up the Pieces in Aplington-Parkersburg, New Hartford
Although the last day of school for high school students in BCLUW was originally slated to be dedicated to year-end tests, principal Ben Petty thought there was time to squeeze in one more lesson, a life lesson, of sorts, inspired by the deadly May 25 F-5 tornado that hit the neighboring districts of Parkersburg and New Hartford.
"The morning after the tornado hit, my staff members came to school asking what we could do to help," Petty said. Though the district had already begun to organize supply drives through the Red Cross, Salvation Army and the local churches, BCLUW staff and students wanted to do more.
"Our districts play each other in sports. They know each other. We have staff members that live in that community and our students wanted to help out," Petty said. He offered students the opportunity to take all of their final tests on May 30 in order to attend the life-changing field trip June 2. Nearly the entire student body chose to attend. Organizers split them up into work groups: two busloads of students went to Parkersburg and one bus went to New Hartford.
"This whole experience was very powerful for these students," Petty said. "When we approached Parkersburg, the students that had been talking among themselves looked out at the devastation and you could have heard a pin drop. The TV and newspaper don't prepare you until you are right there in it."
Once on-site, the students set up a block west of where the high school once stood before it was leveled by the 205 mile per hour winds. They spent the day picking through the pieces that once made up several of the 350 homes demolished by the twister.
"The only complaint uttered that day was that the students wanted to do more but we couldn’t empty the dumpsters fast enough," Petty said.
The devastation was widespread, as media reports across the country illustrated and the BCLUW students witnessed firsthand.
"Not one of us knew what to expect," BCLUW high school student body president Robert Strother recalled. "It was definitely a humbling experience. You realize how small you are. You see everything on TV, but nothing compares to seeing destruction firsthand and the vastness of it."
Still, moments of hope made similarly deep impacts on the students as well.
"We’d sort through twisted metal and splintered wood and find underneath perfectly intact toys and games," Strother said. "We’d pull those out and save them. It wasn’t much, but it was still very fulfilling in a way."
Aplington-Parkersburg board president Kevin Schipper said it was especially gratifying to see the support from both the staff and students from BCLUW and other surrounding districts, including Dike-New Hartford, AGWSR, Grundy Center, North Linn, North Cedar, Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Waverly-Shellrock.
"The response from area and national youth has been immediate and persistent - so many that sincerely want to help. These are the experiences that remind us all about what is good and right with our youth and we are forever grateful," he said.
The trip had an impact on the school administrators of the surrounding districts as well.
"We all talked about how this could have been us, how this could have happened to any of us. It has made us rethink our disaster plans, what we can do better to make students safer," Petty said.
"I can't imagine what those residents are going through, and now the flood victims also. Not a good start to the summer," BCLUW school board president Mary Morris said. "[But] I am really proud of the BCLUW staff and students for helping with the cleanup in Parkersburg on their last day of school. The patrons of the BCLUW district have always been so giving in any time of need and it really makes me proud to know that they are just as giving outside the district."