Healing will be the primary lesson for Clarkdale Elementary students Thursday as they return to classes in two different schools, separating a family of children and teachers who survived a life-threatening flood.
Counselors will report to Compton Elementary and Austell Intermediate bright and early to provide assistance for those who need it. School supplies donated by Cobb County Schools families from across the district will be doled out generously.
On Thursday, buses will fan out across Cobb County picking up Clarkdale students as early as 6:30 a.m. to get them to their schools on time. Stops will even be made at the Cobb Civic Center, where some families who lost their homes are bunking.
“Every one has been working the past couple of days from sun up to sun down to figure out how to help these students,” said area Superintendent Ed Thayer. “We didn’t really have a place where we could put everyone in one building ... [but] your child will be in the same class. We will take care of your child.”
Students in grades k-2 will report to Compton, and those in grades 3 to 5 will go to Austell Intermediate. The children may be divided, but the school will still be together in spirit. Students will have the same classmates and the same teachers.
Cobb Schools administrators reassured more than 500 parents who gathered for a meeting Wednesday night at Ewing Road Baptist Church in Austell that the transition would be as smooth as the circumstances allow.
“You saw the pictures of the building — it is devastating,” said principal Marjorie Bickerstaff. “You all, we’ve lost a lot of stuff. We didn’t lose a child. The loss of a child or a staff member would be something none of us could deal with.”
Earlier Wednesday, Cobb School Superintendent Fred Sanderson visited Clarkdale. “It’s devastating to see the building, and what’s happened here. It’s going to be a long time recovering.”
Bickerstaff told parents that evacuation of the school was well-organized.
On Monday, the water in the parking lot was rising above the principal’s ankles and all she could think about was her kids — more than 400 of them were still in the building.
Cobb County Schools transportation officials had been monitoring the fury of the storm. They learned that 92 roads had been closed and the situation at Clarkdale was getting serious.
Third-grader Alivia Thompson was practicing addition and subtraction in math class when the water began to cover the playground. She said some kids broke their pencil points on purpose so they could look out the window at the river building where they used to play.
Eraina Drain, a transportation supervisor, came on campus and saw the water moving over the bus port and spilling into the parking lot. She called the cavalry. Eight yellow buses were standing by at Garrett Middle School.
By 12:30 p.m., the principal announced the evacuation of the school. She told parents their children reacted quickly.
The buses had to take the long way to Clarkdale because of flooded streets. Students were worried about getting wet and leaving their belongings behind.
“They were scared,” Alivia said. “Some of them were crying.”
The school was evacuated in 15 minutes. “I don’t think they could have done any better,” Drain said.
PTA president Veronica Johnson agreed. “They got the children out — that’s the greatest thing,” she said.
Bus drivers who worked second jobs stayed put so they could rescue the kids from the flood. Parents, administrators and staff hailed them as the unsung “heroes” of the day.
Parents and teachers said the school was like family.
“Whenever there is a problem, there are no questions asked, everyone just pitches in to help,” said Sheila Geyer, a parent and teacher at the school for the past seven years.
Bickerstaff said she has received calls and e-mails of support from across the country, from Alaska to New Jersey, with people wanting to donate time or supplies.
Summer Butler, a mother of three who lost her home and valuables in the flood, bought a Wal-Mart gift card for her child’s teacher for school supplies. The educator was distraught when she called her to tell about post-flood plans for students, Butler said
“She had lost her husband to lung cancer three weeks ago,” said the mother. “She told me she had lost everything she loved in a month. When I asked if there was anything I could do to help, she said, ‘Just bring your daughter to school.’ ”
Staff writer Mike Morris contributed to this article.