Severe weather Wednesday afternoon made for an emotional end to the day for those in Bryan and College Station schools.
Led by teachers and campus administrators, students gathered in the designated storm-safe areas of their schools for about 45 minutes as a storm — accompanied by a tornado warning — passed through the area.
No injuries in either district were reported, and no schools were damaged, but it was a scary situation for students as well as some adults.
Some students responded by crying, while others just tried to keep themselves occupied with games of rock, paper, scissors.
To help calm the students, teachers at Johnson Elementary School in Bryan read books aloud, with one teacher reading to an entire hallway and another teacher reading to small groups of her students.
“That’s what it’s all about right there,” Johnson Principal Amy Thomman said of her teachers’ efforts. “You don’t even think about what’s going on. You’re thinking about that moment. You know you’re with someone who cares about you.”
Thomman said the teachers continued to send the message to students that they would keep them safe. She said she even saw some fourth graders comforting younger students.
Other campuses instructed students to get against a wall and into a bent-over protective position with their arms covering their head. That decision, ultimately, falls to the campus administrators if they determine the students need to be in a more protective position.
“It is scary, and it’s very important at that time that our staff remains calm, even when they might be a little frightened, too. We really appreciate the way that they handled that,” Bryan district spokesman Matthew LeBlanc said, noting it is natural for both kids and adults to be scared when severe weather prompts a tornado warning.
On every campus in both districts, students were led to interior parts of their buildings to seek shelter away from windows and exterior walls as the storms rolled through the area.
“They get away from the outside edges of the building, any windows. They go to the portion of whichever building they’re in that is the most structurally sound, and it’s different at each campus,” College Station school district spokesman Chuck Glenewinkel said. “It’s something that they practice and so they know what to do, and from what I understand, everything went as it was supposed to do today.”
Any tornado warning will prompt a “shelter in place” response in Bryan schools also, LeBlanc said.
In College Station, students went into a “duck and cover” response as the tornado warning covered almost all of the school district, Glenewinkel said.
Both districts alerted parents to the situation via their emergency alert systems, which parents can opt into or update on either district’s website.
Though each campus can enact one of the district’s four emergency responses as needed, Glenewinkel said, Wednesday’s duck and cover was issued from the district’s central administration to all campuses.
“It can be hectic if you let it, but the thing about it is we practice these things, our campuses do,” he continued. “All of our teachers, all of our principals, and all of our students, frankly, are prepared for these situations.”
That preparation is important, he said, so everyone knows what to do when it is not a drill but a real emergency.
“It’s important to be able to go back to the things that you’ve practiced and maintain safety at all of our campuses. That’s our top priority, and that’s why we practice it and why we do what we do,” Glenewinkel said. “Luckily, nothing happened today, but had something been in the vicinity of one of our schools, our faculty and staff and students were in the absolute safest place they could have been.”
Bryan schools also prepare for such situations, LeBlanc said, noting Wednesday’s procedures followed what the district has in place and what the schools practice.
Following a quick discussion, LeBlanc said, Bryan administrators decided to delay dismissal by 30 minutes to help keep everyone safe because bus drivers and parents would have begun lining up at campuses in the midst of the severe storms.
Parents who were on campus already to pick up their kids during the shelter in place were asked to come inside and also wait out the storm rather than take their students.
“I know a lot of parents got nervous, which is very, very understandable, so the reaction was they come up to the school and try to take their kids out. … We cannot prevent parents from doing that, but in a weather situation like that, that is not the best course of action,” he said, thanking the parents who sought shelter in the schools.
In Bryan, the district’s safety coordinator and risk management director receive the weather alerts and discuss with the superintendent about how to proceed. The safety and security team will meet again for an after-action review to discuss how things went Wednesday.
“While overall this went well, and everyone stayed safe and that’s what’s most important, you can always learn from the experiences and make tweaks to it and be a little bit sharper the next time,” LeBlanc said.