April 16, 2011 was a day filled with mixed emotions for me. It was not a typical Saturday- I had a job fair in the morning and then I traveled to another local high school for the end of the Science Olympiad competition. Ben Martin had several teachers who sponsored events and they were just as excited as the students about showcasing what they had learned. This was only our second year participating in Science Olympiad. During the awards presentation, we were honored by receiving the Spirit Award. The students and teachers were very proud of their efforts, and as their principal, my heart swelled with pride as well. Our team consisted of students in grades 3-5 yet the teachers who were sponsors taught all grade levels. It meant a great deal to me to have the K-2 teachers invested in the lives of our 3-5 graders. The event ended in David-and-Goliath-like fashion: we, the underdogs,  won the event!!!!! You could hear the screams of excitement from our students all across the campus. (I think the teachers were just as loud.) We were all on cloud nine.
     Later than afternoon I received a telephone call informing me that our school had been severely damaged by a tornado. I attempted to gain access to the building via Reilly Road but the police had already blocked the roads. No one was able to enter. But when one door closes (or road in this case), another "window" is opened. One of our teachers was able to lead me through the back of her property which dumped right in Ben Martin's backyard. I had to go through cow pastures to get there, but it worked. I immediately saw the effects of the storm. That's when I plummeted from cloud nine to ground zero.
     The first thing I noticed was the debris. Trash  and school supplies littered the yard. I was able to walk the perimeter of the school to assess the damage. I was like a sponge soaking everything in. No one can prepare you for a moment like that. Seeing images in a 3 x 4 format does not compare to "living" it in 360 degrees. A dirty teddy bear resting along a fence greeted me as I came to the newest wing of the building, D Wing. That is when I noticed small shirts, pants, and jackets scattered across the lawn. That's the first time I cried. My tears were not for the damaged building or the for the personal items lost. My tears were more of thanksgiving- thank God it was not a school day! We were immeasurably blessed. The "what if's" were more overwhelming than reality. The building could be repaired. The people could never be replaced. Luckily none of the students were hurt while at home during the storm. Many lost their homes or had severe damage to their homes but we were all safe.
     For many of the staff and students, Ben Martin is like our second home. During the week I spend more time there than I do my own house. I was saddened by the damage to the building since so many of the rooms held special memories for me. But it's the people who make the home. My people were safe. We just needed another "house" in which to teach. 
     The outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming. People just showed up and helped us move from Ben Martin to our temporary home at Ramsey Street and Hillsboro Street Schools. The school's backyards meet so we were able to acquire both buildings to house our 600 + students. Churches donated food and gift cards, current and retired teachers came to help us set up classrooms, county workers moved boxes and more boxes (where do the teachers get all that stuff?!?), flowers were planted by a neighboring county school, classroom lesson plans were donated, supplies were donated, money was collected to purchase those unexpected necessities, etc. It was amazing to witness and a blessing to last a lifetime. In three and a half days we were able to transform an existing school and the metamorphasis was a site to behold. Ben Martin was now a home with a different address- 117 Quncy Street. There is a banner displayed in the lobby that welcomes each guest. The message is simple: "Home Sweet Home."
     Now I've tried on the ruby slippers and even tried clicking my heals together. Nothing happened! We are all anxious to have Ben Martin repaired so we can resume classes in our original community. Until that day happens, we will continue to love and nurture our students, support our staff, uplift our community, and go about the business we've been charged with- teaching the boys and girls who will one day lead this great nation. Thank you for your continued support of our school and community. 
 


Comments

Grace Sabla
05/14/2011 10:03

Ben Martin ALA is my children's second home. We moved here in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina and we were welcomed with open arms. It was unbelievable when I walked up to the school with my children just right after the tornado hit. My children were in tears when they saw their school had been hit.My son Ali said "Mom this is my second home" and wiped away his tears. My youngest Ismael who is in kindergarten saw his building as started crying and hoped that his teacher Ms. Cashwell was okay. I just stood there in front of the school holding my children and crying with them.Although my oldest daughter Palestine does not go there anymore, she was just as shocked by what she saw, she was speechless and hoped everyone was okay. We have so many memories at this wonderful school and Ben Martin Ala has become like a second family to us.We cant wait until Ben Martin rises again. Looking forward to it. God Bless this school and the Ben Martin Staff.

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katelynn pylant
08/28/2011 06:03

everybody is loving the school and of corse i love it because i am one of the students i miss our playground but it will ok right now it just started so i wont be disaponed

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05/31/2012 00:10

Fine post bro

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09/25/2012 04:32

Good article dude

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    Hello everyone! My name is Crystal Brown and I am the proud principal of Benjamin Martin Elementary School. I will update you on our school's progress from time to time.

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