The 2019-2020 school year truly was one for the history books.
Teachers, staff and students in Richardson and Dallas started the year off with a devastating tornado then ended it with a pandemic.
It's truly a tale of two storms.
"I can tell you we weren’t prepared for this,” said Michael Thomas, principal of Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet in Richardson. “We were definitely looking forward to 2020 after Oct. 20, 2019.”
That night, Thomas nearly lost his Richardson home.
“You could hear this roaring coming and then the house started to shake. We’re in the bathroom huddled up and honestly just praying every prayer we possibly can,” he said.
His home was severely damaged. Some of his neighbors had it even worse.
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His thoughts turned to the countless students at several schools that also lived in the area. Power was out to multiple campuses for at least a week. Some students who lost everything ended up having to move from the area.
Not too far off at Cutter's Point apartments, an entire family of five, including three kids, said they crammed into their closet to hide from the storm.
“Things can happen in a blink of an eye, so just be more thankful about what’s going on every day, what you have,” said father Desmond Logan.
In the same complex, Kassie Bradley’s family of six huddled in their closet. They could hear the roof ripping off their building from their first floor apartment. A tree crushed their car.
A few buildings away, her niece and her son were traumatized after the roof peeled off their second floor apartment.
"I was scared, when I saw my cousin crying I started crying,” said Kassie’s 10-year old son, Charles.
Both families were suddenly homeless due to a gas leak and had to stay in hotels.
“It was hard but sooner or later we all got back on our feet,” said Desmond’s son James Logan, a sophomore in high school.
For some, it was hard finding a new place to live to keep the kids at the same schools.
“We stayed with what we had on a couple of days, which was just pajamas,” Bradley said. "We were discouraged at first, especially trying to find a place to live but we were trying to shelter the kids from it. It was stressful."
But then the next big thing hit in just a few months. The global pandemic sent the same families into economic uncertainty as lockdowns went into place.
“It flew by. We were just trying to catch our breath when the pandemic hit so we were like, what else?” said Bradley.
Principal Thomas said he believes the tornado gave them all the strength they needed to endure the pandemic later that school year.
“Every experience is a blessing in disguise. Even going through something like this -- which was difficult for myself my wife and kids, my students and my staff -- it all helps us to become stronger. And there was a learning lesson and everything that we did,” he said. "They are so hard-working and they know how to roll with the punches. I think that is such a great trait to have and that’s going to suffice for them moving forward.“
Students had already experienced pivoting to a new plan for schooling following the tornado so the chaos of the pandemic was just another moment to use those skills.
“It wasn’t really a hard adjustment for them because they know our resiliency, and they know the results,” he said. “They know they have teachers that care about them and will do everything they can to make sure we support them.”
Logan’s mom, Krissa Chatman, said she’s proud of her kids for weather both of life’s storms.
"They’ve been through a lot and I tell them all the time, you guys of been through the tornado and now the pandemic, you’ll have a lot to talk about once you get older,” she said.
Bradley said a year later, her family is a year wiser.
“I am proud of my kids for sticking in there, we’re just trying to make this as comfortable as possible for them,” she said. "It got better from there. We survived that and we’re surviving the pandemic. It does get better just hang in there.”
That’s a message Principal Thomas wants to send to all children.
“We’re not going to let any barriers hold us back,” he said. “But let’s use those as lessons to really push us forward in a positive way.”