Mixed emotions mark first day of school in tornado-ravaged Moore

Plaza Towers, Briarwood students commute to temporary buildings after their schools were destroyed May 20 by deadly storm
by Tim Willert Modified: August 16, 2013 at 9:56 pm •  Published: August 16, 2013

Amy Shipman and her daughter put on a happy face for the first day of school in Moore on Friday, but it didn't take long for their emotions to bubble to the surface.

“I don't like it. I want to be in the Old Plaza Towers,” 7-year-old Kenzi Shipman blurted out as she approached the junior high that will be her elementary school's temporary home for the coming year. “I'm gonna try (to like it), but I don't feel very good about it.”

The powerful May 20 tornado stole the home Amy Shipman shared with her husband and daughter. The family was spared, but Kenzi's nearby elementary school — Plaza Towers — was leveled and seven students killed, including five she knew.

“I think everybody's overwhelmed,” said Amy Shipman, a mental health therapist who drove to Moore from her new home near Oklahoma City Community College.

A tear rolled down her cheek.

“It's going to be a good day,” she said. “These are tears of joy.”

Mixed emotions marked the first day of school across the district, where students and teachers were reunited for the first time since the twister caused $55 million worth of damage to 23 of 36 campuses and ended the school year prematurely.

“For some of them, it was more of a struggle than for others,” Moore Public Schools spokesman Jimi Fleming said. “For us, this was the beginning of our moving forward, and that's what we've been shooting for all along.”

Down the road at Emmaus Baptist Church, enthusiastic Briarwood Elementary School teachers and administrators welcomed back excited students and anxious parents with big hugs and broad smiles.

“I'm, like, freaking out,” parent Ashley Sandoval said.

“The last time my daughter went to school, she was in a tornado.”

Jordyn Sandoval, 8, was pulled from the Briarwood rubble by first responders. Her teacher helped protect her as classroom walls came down around her.

Jordyn, sporting shiny black slip-ons and a stylish pink tote, said she was happy to be back in school “cuz I get to see my friends again and make my brain get more smart.”

Like Plaza Towers, Briarwood was destroyed by the EF5 tornado, but no one was seriously hurt. Both schools will be rebuilt in time for the start of school in 2014, district officials said.

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by Tim Willert
Education Reporter
Tim Willert is a native Californian with Oklahoma ties who covers education. Prior to moving to Oklahoma in June 2011, he was as an editor for FOXSports.com in Century City, Calif., and reported on courts for the Los Angeles Daily Journal and...
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