Each year, my eighth graders at Joplin East Middle School look forward
to their first official visit to Joplin High School.
They have heard the horror stories about the school, how they, as
freshmen the next year, will need to stay clear of the seniors who
have worked their way up to the top of the food chain.
They speak in hushed whispers of Eagle Alley, a near mythical hallway
that one almost needs a guide to navigate.
That first trip, which was scheduled for Wednesday, will never happen.
Eagle Alley is a thing of the past. After the devastating killer
tornado that ripped through the heart of my city Sunday night, Joplin
High School, the place where so many of my former students have
learned the skills they need to succeed in life, the place where they
made friends, created memories, and prepared for their passage into
adulthood exists only in memory.
At least 89 people are reported dead and hundreds injured as a result
of the first major tornado to hit Joplin in four decades.
Those of us who were fortunate enough not to be in the path of the
storm (it hit approximately a quarter of a mile from the apartment
complex where I live) waited in the center of a darkened city, praying
that loved ones had somehow managed to remain safe in what reporters
were describing as a scene from a war zone.
With nearly all power gone in this city of 50,000, the night sky was
still illuminated by jagged streaks of lightning in the distance and
by the lights from emergency vehicles as they passed every few
When morning arrived, we were greeted by a sun that seemed almost
foreign in light of what had happened.
And now the waiting begins. Every few moments I scan through Facebook
postings, heartened by messages that indicate my students and former
students are alive. So far, none have been listed among the casualties
through word of mouth, but it may be only a matter of time. Officials
have yet to release any of the names of those who were killed.
The Joplin School District has canceled classes for today and they may
well be finished for the school year, which had another nine days to
go. Three of our school buildings are gone forever and the middle
school where I teach no longer has a roof.
Many of my former students received their high school diplomas Sunday
afternoon during graduation ceremonies at Missouri Southern State
University, commemorating their achievements over the past four years
at Joplin High School. Now that ceremony, which should have been a
memorable milestone in their young lives, will always be tainted by
As I write these words, slightly more than 14 hours have passed since
the city of Joplin was changed forever.
The welcoming sunshine of just an hour ago has vanished, replaced by
darkening clouds and the steady, insistent rumbling of thunder.
And now we wait.