These Middle Schoolers Rule! Two Of The Best Hours I’ve Ever Spent.

I'm Talking About Disasters At Roosevelt Middle School| Photo by Matt Bryers

To me one of the advantages, or perks if you will, of a 37-year career as a television meteorologist is being asked to go to schools and speak to students of varying ages. Now that I am a columnist for EDN I still am asked to give weather presentations. The program I am asked  to give most often is to explain how the weather works. Another topic was how I would use the data from the National Weather Service in my very expensive weather graphics computer system at the TV station and translate the data into graphics that would help me explain what was going to happen next. One of my personal favorites is talking about the wacky weather records here and worldwide that make you wonder how we can survive such extremes of temperature, rainfall, snowfall, and wind just to name a few.

The grade levels I have visited have run the gamut from kindergarten all the way to college classes. I also have presented weather programs at senior citizens facilities and to many service clubs and other groups over the years. I still get requests from teachers, sometimes referred to me by friends or acquaintances, to speak on a subject of their choosing or they will tell me to choose whatever topic I want. PowerPoint became a great friend of mine allowing me to explain a myriad of weather related topics with simple graphics that were easily understood and easy for me to make.

Just recently one of our EDN family recommended me as a guest speaker for her son’s 7th grade class. I was given the teacher’s phone number and e-mail address and the wheels were set in motion.

Matt Byers, Roosevelt Middle School Science Teacher | Image Tim Chuey
Matt Byers, Roosevelt Middle School Science Teacher | Image Tim Chuey

Matt Byers, 6th & 7th grade science teacher from Roosevelt middle school, and I discussed dates that were open and we picked one. The plan was for me to speak to two separate classes for one hour each. Matt and I discussed my plan to show his students my PowerPoint presentation that explains the disasters I have been through, having lived all over as the country, and why we here in the South Willamette Valley see very few if any of those events happening in our backyard.

I was introduced to each classroom full of students, some of whom actually knew who I am. (I have been out of the TV business for over four-and-a-half years and that would mean these youngsters were only about 8-years-old back then and many probably never saw me on TV.)

I'm Talking About Disasters | Image Matt Bryers
I’m Talking About Disasters | Image Matt Bryers

(The above picture is not a mistake. Matt did a fine job using my camera. The faces of the students are blurred for privacy reasons.) Off I went telling the students all of the places where I have lived and the disasters, of one kind or another, that became a way of life for my wife and I and later on our two children also. See Weather Or Not, My First Column and the following week’s column for details of the following storms. It started with snowstorms in Rochester, New York where I grew up. The biggest snow producing storm there happened in 1966 when over four feet of snow in a short period of time and drifted making travel impossible. Skipping quickly through the locations and events Geneva and Binghamton, New York had the same winter weather in addition to severe thunderstorms. The 500-year flood in Elmira, New York was devastating and we lived in an evacuation center for 5 days until we could return home.

Hurricane Agness Flood of 1972 | Chemung County Historical Society Collection
Hurricane Agness Flood of 1972 | Image Chemung County Historical Society Collection

Eau Claire, Wisconsin was the site for brutally cold winters (record -39 degrees for the date and second coldest ever recorded there). In Austin, Texas I saw some of the strongest thunderstorms I have ever witnessed. There were tornadoes dancing around and very hot summertime temperatures. More thunderstorms and mild earthquakes occurred in Evansville, Indiana along with serious downbursts which caused destruction similar to tornadoes, but the debris was not twisted.

Disaster PowerPoint Presentation Memphis Slide | Image Tim ChuetyPowerPoint
Disaster PowerPoint Presentation Memphis Slide | Image Tim ChuetyPowerPoint

In Memphis, Tennessee we had a tornado destroy the neighborhoods southwest and northeast of our house missing us because it lifted up becoming a funnel cloud for the short time it passed over my neighborhood. My wife, our two children, and two cats hid in our bathtub after the tornado warning was issued. After I explained that one of the students asked me if I was afraid during these severe weather events. My thoughtful answer is no. Not because I am fearless or brave, but because I didn’t have the time to be scared. Your main concern is warning the public so they will be safe and making sure your family members are safe as well.

I saw their eyes widen when I talked about the 1969 snowstorm that buried the Eugene-Springfield area in about 3-feet of snow. I am still amazed at the energy these students have and the enthusiasm in their voices when they retell a story they heard from their parents or even their grandparents about weather events of the past. I always try to end my presentations discussing fire and earthquake drills. (In a first for me I got to participate in their “hard lock-down” drill during the time between my class sessions.) I ask the students if they have fire drills and earthquake drills in school and they all answer yes, but when I ask if they have those drills at home most say no. My advice to them is to go home and tell their parents they need to be prepared and that drills are the way to do that. If all you have is a plan there is a good chance that when the time comes to implement it you won’t remember what to do. Physically practicing an exit strategy gets muscle memory involved and if your brain isn’t sure what you should do the fact that you already performed the motions will tell your body what to do. When practicing one of the most important rules is to have a safe meeting place away from your house so you can count heads and make sure everyone is safe.

I get so involved with fielding and answering the questions they have that I usually don’t remember very many if any of them once the session is over. I had a question posed to me years ago in Wisconsin that stunned me. As I said the actual questions seem to fade away, but I do remember it was at an elementary school. A student in one of the lower grades asked me a question I would expect to have come from a college student. The most interesting thing is that, at that time anyway, science didn’t have an answer to the question. I have wished for years that I could remember that question just so I could know if science has found the answer by now.

Speaking to and with all of these youngsters gives me hope for our future. They are smart, eager to learn, and very willing to participate in discussions with me. Please, I am not bragging but many teachers over the years have told me that I am so good at this that I should be a teacher. (I seem to have a way with getting them interested in what I am saying and having them interject their weather stories and weather questions.) My response to that is simple. Yes, the students are very attentive and usually very well-behaved while I am with them, but to a large degree that can be attributed to the fact I am someone new to their classroom and I will not be testing them. I feel that relationship would change if I were with them on a regular basis. I enjoy my time with them and they seem to enjoy hearing what I have to say. I will continue scheduling these speaking engagements as long as there is someone who wants to hear what I have to say.

My special thanks to Roosevelt Middle School, Science Teacher Matt Byers, and his students for giving me so much in return.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can email me at: [email protected].

image Gary Breedlove
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