Getting into the swing of the school year is hard enough. Leaving summer vacation behind. Adjusting to new schedules. Making new friends. But a threatening hurricane can bring a host of challenges for students and their families. The erratic Tropical Storm Fay inspired JTemple to write about a hurricane that destroyed her school a few years ago, changed her high school experience and taught her unexpected lessons.
In early August 2004, I was excited. I was 14 and about to start high school. I had new clothes, new school supplies, a new hairstyle, and a newfound sense of self-confidence. The first three days of school were great. I made tons of new friends, loved all my classes, and was full of school spirit. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to bring in locker money. So I had a whole year of heavy backpacks and long walks between classes ahead of me, something I wasn't looking forward to at all.
The fourth day of school? Well...it never really happened. You see, school starts right in the middle of hurricane season in Florida. As the 2,000 students at my high school were out shopping, doing summer work, and otherwise prepping for the year ahead, a storm of monstrous proportions was growing at a rapid pace in the Atlantic.
At first, no one was really all that worried about Charley. No major storm had affected Punta Gorda in decades. And even as it started to strengthen into a major hurricane (classified as category 3 or higher on the 5-level scale), the projected path of impact placed it making landfall about 100 miles north, in the Tampa Bay area. However, memories of the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Andrew on Miami lingered in the minds of many residents, so everyone took the necessary precautions. Houses were boarded up, school was cancelled, and thousands evacuated as the storm hit Cuba and approached the United States.
Sadly, Hurricane Charley completely destroyed my school, Charlotte High, which was built in the 1920s. School was cancelled for more than two weeks before we were assigned to split sessions at our rival high school, Port Charlotte High School, which escaped from Charley mostly unscathed. Basically, this schedule meant that PCHS students attended school from 6 a.m. until noon, and we took over campus from noon to 6 p.m. From late August until spring break, I woke up around 10 a.m. to go to school every day. It seems like a nice schedule, but we would have given anything to be back in our own school again.
After spring break, we finally returned to our original campus, but with one huge difference. The "new school" was made up entirely of portable classrooms, which are essentially trailers. "Portable City" is still the main campus of Charlotte High, though construction finally began on the school earlier this summer.
So when Tropical Storm Fay threatened to strike my town a few days ago, we were all prepared. The entire town took huge precautions to ensure that we wouldn't be caught off guard again. Panic spread like wildfire throughout the teacher/student population. No one knew, or wanted to know, what would happen if the portables were swept away by a hurricane. If Charley could destroy giant 80-year-old brick buildings, who knows what a smaller storm could do to some flimsy cardboard trailers? Fortunately, the storm never became a hurricane and, at least for now, the portables are safe.
Looking back on my years in Portable City, I'll always remember how the school, always known for its unity and spirit, came together in unimaginable ways after Charley. Being forced into such a painful, terrifying situation forced us all to reach out and help one another. Hurricane Charley was devastating, painful, and probably the scariest experience of my life, but without it, my high school experience would have been completely different.
And anyway, if it hadn't hit, I would have been stuck without a locker all year. Ew!
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