Read­ing links stu­dents

Searchers find body in hur­ri­cane-hit town

Tulsa World - - Front Page - By An­drea Eger

JENKS — Emily Copsey and Clara Brown are sis­ters teach­ing in class­rooms sep­a­rated by 6,300 miles, but through a joint read­ing project, their stu­dents in Jenks and West Africa are learn­ing some universal truths about the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

Fri­day marked the first op­por­tu­nity the stu­dents had to see each other via Skype video call and dis­cuss the book they've been read­ing — but first things first.

Both classes had mailed pen pal let­ters; how­ever, the batch from The Pearl House Academy in Ghana still hasn't ar­rived at Jenks East In­ter­me­di­ate, so teach­ers let them first ask the burn­ing per­sonal ques­tions on their minds.

The fifth-graders in Jenks wanted to know about Africa and what the all-girls class of stu­dents, ages 11-21, like to eat.

They seemed sur­prised when two of their Ghana­ian coun­ter­parts told them their fa­vorites were pizza and marsh­mal­lows,

but per­plexed with an­other's an­swer of yams and stew.

But it was a re­sponse to the fa­vorite movie ques­tion that made all of Copsey's 52 lan­guage arts and so­cial stud­ies stu­dents burst into cheers and ap­plause — last year's smash hit mu­si­cal star­ring Hugh Jack­man as P.T. Bar­num, “The Great­est Show­man.”

“I didn't know they had seen those kinds of movies and liked them!” said Lu­cas Thomp­son, 10.

Thomp­son's ques­tion to one of Copsey's sis­ter's 15 stu­dents in Ghana about her daily sched­ule brought an in­stan­ta­neous hush across Copsey's class­room.

She wakes at 4 a.m. to do house chores — cooking and clean­ing — at the res­i­den­tial Pearl House, a Tulsa-based non­profit that serves or­phans and other girls whose fam­i­lies can­not care for them. Then she at­tends school from 8 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and re­turns home to do home­work.

Brown, her teacher, “But that's true!”

All of her stu­dents laughed at her truth-telling be­fore the girl who had an­swered said, while still laugh­ing guiltily, “I'm rest­ing! Af­ter I rest, I do my home­work.”

“They wake up re­ally early,” Thomp­son mused. “I think I would prob­a­bly still be asleep. I would be ex­tremely tired if I had to wake up that early.”

One girl in Ghana wanted to know what the Jenks stu­dents do for fun.

Ten-year-old Cooper Knox made a cou­ple of his bud­dies laugh when he pointed at them and said, “They play video games. I like to read.”

Then all of the stu­dents in Ghana laughed when Je­sus Jaimes, also 10, re­sponded, “I like to sleep!”

With those in­tro­duc­tions out of the way, the stu­dents got down to the busi­ness of dis­cussing “Refugee” by Alan Gratz, which tells the sto­ries of a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Ger­many, a Cuban girl dur­ing the un­rest of the early 1990s, and a Syr­ian boy amid civil war in 2015.

This spe­cial, six-week read­ing project is done through a pro­gram called Global Read Aloud. Since 2010, the pro­gram's model of us­ing one book to con­nect stu­dents from across the world has reached more than 4 mil­lion stu­dents.

Copsey said her stu­dents have quickly moved past their ini­tial re­ac­tions to the par­tic­u­larly heavy sub­ject mat­ter.

“The kids were like, `It's too sad, we can't read this.' We had to have dis­cus­sions about how this is real life — some of these things have al­ready hap­pened and in Syria, it's hap­pen­ing right now,” Copsey said. “One of my stu­dents came here from Iran six years ago and was like, `Guys, this stuff re­ally hap­pens,' so they're start­ing to make con­nec­tions and ac­cept that it's OK to be sad.”

They're only 55 pages in, so the stu­dents mostly com­pared notes on which of the three main char­ac­ters were their fa­vorites so far. As they progress, there will be more op­por­tu­ni­ties to learn about the sub­ject mat­ter in the book, and about each other.

“I believe in both the power of books and my sis­ter's heart in help­ing these young ladies in Ghana,” Copsey said. “We are fo­cus­ing on teach­ing em­pa­thy this year, and those lessons will only be re­in­forced by read­ing this book and learn­ing from the chil­dren in Ghana.” fam­ily.

Zahral­ban spoke as his team — which in­cluded a dog — was wind­ing down its two-day search of Mex­ico Beach, the town of about 1,000 peo­ple that was nearly wiped off the map when Michael blew ashore there Wed­nes­day with dev­as­tat­ing 155 mph (249 kph) winds.

Blocks and blocks of homes were de­mol­ished, re­duced to splin­tered lum­ber or mere con­crete slabs by the most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane to hit the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. in nearly 50 years.

As the cat­a­strophic dam­age across the Florida Pan­han­dle came into view 48 hours af­ter the hur­ri­cane struck, there was lit­tle doubt the death toll would rise.

How high it might go was un­clear. But author­i­ties scrapped plans to set up a tem­po­rary morgue, sug­gest­ing they had yet to see mass ca­su­al­ties.

State of­fi­cials said that by one count, 285 peo­ple in Mex­ico Beach de­fied manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders and stayed be­hind. Some of them suc­cess­fully rode out the storm. It was un­clear how many of the oth­ers might have got­ten out at the last minute.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they have re­ceived thou­sands of calls ask­ing about miss­ing peo­ple. But with cell­phone ser­vice out across vast swaths of the Florida Pan­han­dle, of­fi­cials said it is pos­si­ble that some of those un­ac­counted for are safe and just haven't been able to con­tact friends or fam­ily.

Across the rav­aged re­gion, mean­while, author­i­ties set up dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters to hand out food and wa­ter to vic­tims. Some sup­plies were brought in by trucks, while oth­ers had to be de­liv­ered by he­li­copter be­cause of de­bris still block­ing roads.

Res­i­dents be­gan to come to grips with the de­struc­tion and face up to the un­cer­tainty that lies ahead.

“I didn't rec­og­nize noth­ing. Ev­ery­thing's gone. I didn't even know our road was our road,” said 25-year-old Tif­fany Marie Plush­nik, an evac­uee who re­turned to find her home in Sandy Creek too dam­aged to live in.

When she went back to the ho­tel where she took shel­ter from the storm, she found out she could no longer stay there ei­ther be­cause of mold. “We've got to fig­ure some­thing out. We're start­ing from scratch, all of us,” Plush­nik said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced plans to visit Florida and hard­hit Ge­or­gia early next week but didn't say what day he would ar­rive.

“We are with you!” he tweeted.

Shell-shocked sur­vivors who barely es­caped with their lives told of ter­ri­fy­ing winds, surg­ing flood­wa­ters and homes crack­ing apart.

Emer­gency of­fi­cials said they had com­pleted an ini­tial “hasty search” of the stricken area, look­ing for the liv­ing or the dead, and had be­gun more care­ful in­spec­tions of thou­sands of ru­ined build­ings. They said nearly 200 peo­ple had been res­cued.

Gov. Rick Scott said state of­fi­cials still “do not know enough” about the fate of those who stayed be­hind in the re­gion.

“We are not com­pletely done. We are still get­ting down there,” the gov­er­nor added.

Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Brock Long said he ex­pects to see the death toll rise.

“We still haven't got­ten into the hard­est-hit ar­eas,” he said, adding with frus­tra­tion: “Very few peo­ple live to tell what it's like to ex­pe­ri­ence storm surge, and un­for­tu­nately in this coun­try we seem to not learn the les­son.”

Long ex­pressed worry that peo­ple have suf­fered “hur­ri­cane am­ne­sia.”

“When state and lo­cal of­fi­cials tell you to get out, dang it, do it. Get out,” he said.

On the Pan­han­dle, Tyn­dall Air Force Base “took a beat­ing,” so much so that Col. Brian Laid­law told the 3,600 men and women sta­tioned on the base not to come back. Many of the 600 fam­i­lies who live there had fol­lowed or­ders to pack what they could in a sin­gle suit­case as they were evac­u­ated ahead of the storm.

The hur­ri­cane's eye­wall passed di­rectly over­head, se­verely dam­ag­ing nearly ev­ery build­ing and leav­ing many a com­plete loss. The el­e­men­tary school, the flight line, the ma­rina and the run­ways were dev­as­tated.

“I will not re­call you and your fam­i­lies un­til we can guar­an­tee your safety. At this time I can't tell you how long that will take, but I'm on it,” Laid­law wrote. “We need to re­store ba­sic util­i­ties, clear our roads of trees and power lines, and as­sess the struc­tural in­tegrity of our build­ings.”


Lily Burns (left) waves to Ghana­ian stu­dents via Skype as her class, in­clud­ing Collin Maples (right), takes part in a read­ing project at Jenks East In­ter­me­di­ate School in Jenks on Fri­day.

MON­ICA HERN­DON /Tampa Bay Times

Ma­lik Mutch­er­son, from Pepin Dis­tribut­ing, loads sup­plies in Tampa, Fla., on Fri­day for peo­ple af­fected by Hur­ri­cane Michael.


Toni Gon­zalo ap­plauds as her class talks with Ghana­ian stu­dents via Skype at Jenks East In­ter­me­di­ate School on Fri­day.

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