Reading links students
Searchers find body in hurricane-hit town
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.
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.